Created and Performed by Lois Weaver
Off Off Broadway, Musical Revue
Runs through 11.23.14
La MaMa, First Floor Theatre, 74A East 4th Street
by Ken Kaissar on 11.11.14
Lois Weaver as Tammy WhyNot.
BOTTOM LINE: A unique musical revue driven by audience participation and personal testimonials that explores views on sex and aging.
The lines between musical revue, variety show, and daytime talk show converge in this truly unique piece of theatre that defies a clear-cut category. The star of the show is Tammy WhyNot, a “former famous Country singer” who gave it all up to become “a famous lesbian performance artist.” The absurdity of her career move is delivered with a wink-wink that anyone who has ever tried to make it as a downtown theatre artist will appreciate. Tammy WhyNot is the alter-ego of the very thoughtful and inimitable, Lois Weaver, who has been playing this character since 1978.
The show is a live sound check for the concert tour that she is about to launch, and Tammy confides in us that lethargy has set in and she has lost interest in just going through the motions. As she stretches on a yoga mat in preparation, she acknowledges the audience for the first time with “do you ever not feel like it?” From that moment on, we understand that we are being granted the privilege of spending 90 minutes with a seasoned performer who is tired of pretending. Her demeanor promises a chance to glimpse a kernel of truth about what it means to be a public persona who is aging. Her Head of Security -- who really seems more like a stage manager, played by the intriguing and understated Peggy Shaw -- ushers her through a concert set of eight songs. Tammy has a hard time staying on track, however, as she is more interested in engaging the audience about their views on sex. Audience members are randomly selected to complete phrases like, “I love with my ___________,” and “when I think about sex I _____________.” This takes the threat of audience participation to a completely new level.
The highlight of the show is the cast of 17 people in their 70's and 80's, called the WhyNets, that Tammy met by conducting research about sex and aging at several retirement homes in New York, London and Croatia. She enlisted these fearless people -- who are not professional performers by any stretch -- to appear onstage with her and share intimate details about their sex lives and perform a song, a dance, or share a poem. Their willingness to talk about their sexuality so openly is both life affirming and inspiring. Those of us who are under 50 are relieved and encouraged to know that sex doesn’t necessarily stop at Social Security.
Though the eight songs in Tammy’s set are not written or performed with polish, there is something profoundly vulnerable, and therefore beautiful, in the show’s rough quality and imperfection. Tammy and her WhyNets are not protected by the self-confidence and professionalism that makes us admire those accustomed to an eight-show per week schedule. They are frightened -- and therefore particularly brave -- people willing to share a piece of their humanity for our benefit. They are not immune to stage fright and one of Tammy’s songs even acknowledges her uncertainty that she will be able to make it through the show without suffering a nervous breakdown. Getting on stage is clearly a risk for Tammy and her WhyNets, and their courage earns our admiration and affection, but more importantly it leaves us with an overwhelming sense of compassion that is well worth the cost of admission.
(What Tammy Needs to Know About Getting Old and Having Sex plays at La MaMa, First Floor Theatre, 74A East 4th Street, through November 23, 2014. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30PM; Sundays at 2PM; with a special matinee on Thursday, November 13th at 2PM. Tickets are $13-$18 and are available at lamama.org or by calling 646.430.5374.)