First, a joke:Old Perceval decided to treat himself for his 100th birthday. He flew first-class to San Francisco and checked into the Fairmont Hotel. The mischievous hotel concierge got an idea and, as a practical joke, sent a call girl up to his room. She knocked, and the old fellow walked slowly over and opened the door. He saw a beautiful red-headed woman standing before him. “I have a birthday present for you,” she said, and smiled. ”I’m here to give you super sex.” “Thanks,” he said thoughtfully, “I’ll take the soup.”
I’m reminded of this joke because while some folks would think of sex when confronted with the image of three naked gals dipping themselves in and out of a hot tub all night long, some times standing around dripping wet, some times splashing vigorously in the tub, some times lathering up and rinsing off, these women invite you to think of soup instead. The fascinating thing is … they succeed. However, if you think they succeed by accident, then the soup’s on you.
Clothes can be a distraction. Honestly, as a plus sized, that is to say BBW, or more of a big gal aw heck … woman of substance myself I spend a good amount of time each day wondering what will push and pull and girder and bind in just the right way so that I can leave the house hopefully perpetuating this illusion that I was successful in creating in my home and in my mind. Put me up in front of an audience and they may start deconstructing that illusion in order to figure out, like a reverse sudoku, how I got myself together that day. Move this here, take that away, and am I still successful? Am I still nurturing? Am I still complex, original, devoted, fractured, searching, triumphant? Who am I really … and do my clothes help you take that journey with me, or do they just hide my MEness from you?
When we first meet the three women of The Soup Show (Cara Francis, Desiree Burch and Erica Livingston) they are stark naked and unapologetically so. When a disembodied voice invites the audience to sketch the woman of their choice (pencils provided) those in the audience who actually did the exercise probably took a moment to examine each woman first, not for their naked appeal but for their curves and arches, in order to settle on the woman they thought might be easiest to render.
Further, those who took the task seriously probably felt a kinship with their chosen nude model as they echoed the lines of their body; calf turning into thigh, elbow becoming wrist, breast leading to belly. And for two minutes you got a choice to either stare openly or create art … but whatever you chose to do at least you got the inital staring out of your system. Which is not to say you’re not fixated on a certain body part as it moves or sways or jiggles or simply relaxes later on, after all … it’s a naked body part. But the intelligence of this show comes soon enough when, just about the time you’re saying “Okay, why are they naked?” their voice-overs (a technique that keeps them apart from the audience for just another moment … as close to a buffer as one can get if one is going to be naked) goes ahead and asks “ Why are we naked?” and the answers are as varied as their bodies, as varied as their personalities, as varied as three woman can be. Turns out they’re not all comfortable with it, and Erica even expresses the desire to be as far away from all of this as possible. But she’s here … so, the subtext is, if these woman can be here, exposed, talking the straight talk without the distraction of clothing that would only hide or falsify or make small what is big, or make big what is small … then the least you as an audience can do is leave your inhibitions and judgments and insecurities at the door for a length of time and just listen.
The Soup Show soon mounts a Beauty Pageant one could imagine drummed up in the marketing department of the Dove Campaign For Real Beauty boardroom. Full of truthful snippets such as “Desiree has never been in a committed relationship because she usually sleeps with guys before that can happen . . . also, most straight men can’t penetrate the wall of gay men whose company she keeps for safety and comfort” each woman allows herself to be a contestant in the Pageant of the Real. One could only imagine the types of lines that would come from the voice overs if truth was spouted at the real Miss America (or any other) Pageant … “Sally Smith is a bulimic ball of overachieving nerves who can’t get through the swimsuit competition without a Valium. She’s wearing Vaseline on her teeth to keep smiling and glue on her butt to keep her swimsuit in place” being the most benign of things that could be said.
Whether knowingly or unknowingly (and I’d like to credit them with being JUST THAT GOOD, so I’ll say knowingly), The Soup Show women echo the Triple Goddess archetype — the idea that every woman’s path contains The Maiden, The Mother and The Wise Woman (also known as The Crone, but I reject that word based on its negative connotation). While the three leading ladies are all apparently the same age (30, give or take), they are in very different stages of their Goddess phase and bring that to their monologues, skits and explorations. Manifesting the phase of The Maiden Ms. Francis supplies stories of uninhibited feelings of freedom, tosses off uncomfortable spring break moments that border on self-abuse and vacillates between childlike enthusiasm and childish tricks. She’s both secure and searching and provides some of the more comic moments of the show. Ms. Livingston, wife and step-mother to a 13 year old girl, represents The Mother; her stories are of needing to guide her young stepdaughter through a minefield of reality TV (that she herself is still addicted to) and raise a “strong little feminist” who “glows from her self worth” while wrestling with the moniker of “stepmother” which, to some ears, is synonymous with “bad mom”. Ms. Burch is The Wise Woman - the smart one; touted as the Yale graduate, the ordained minister, voted Soup Show President and tasked with the gnarly mission of cleaning up health care while standing with shoulders squared as she faces a barrage of questions meant to diminish and demean her as a candidate. By representing all three phases of The Moon Goddess these three women manage to envelope each female demographic, even those that are a bit of a mix (because, of course, no one can be fully just one thing). Again, whether this was premeditated or just a slice of serendipity isn’t clear, but regardless, it works.
In between pokes at their own insecurities and coy praise for their own talents these three strong woman do, in fact, make soup which they at times bottle and then distribute. They also, save for a few moments when they don tiny robes, remain naked for the length of the show. Ironically (but again, probably intentionally) the nudity is not the most intimate or uncomfortable, or even the most appealing part of The Soup Show. Despite the fact that the goods were on display for most of the show I found more to look at in these women’s faces; their expressions telling me a lot more about them than random body contours that have as much to do with genes than anything else. And these women were never more exposed as when they were submerged in the tub, throwing out some of their deepest secrets. Cara Francis, Desiree Burch and Erica Livingston use The Soup Show to show us … we are not exposed when we show our skin to others, but when we show our souls to others. By doing both, they leave us with the recipe to serve up our own kind of soup to share with whomever can handle it.
~~~The Soup Show By Desiree Burch, Erica Livingston and Cara Francis; Directed by Lauren Sharpe Remaining Shows: (Thursdays through Sundays at 7:00PM) March 18, 2010 7:00 PM – March 27, 2010 7:00 PM HERE Arts Center 145 Sixth Ave. New York, NY 10013 Ticket Price: $18; $12 For more ticket information click here For more show info visit here