Written and Performed by Lois Weaver and Peggy Shaw
Directed by Lois Weaver
Split Britches is a multi award winning feminist, lesbian theatre company formed in New York in 1980. Originally created with Deb Margolin, the company is now Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver who are also on/off life partners. Their combined ages come in at a mighty 153 years of life experience, theatrical technique, dry humour and wonderful storytelling. Shaw and Weaver blend gender politics and pop culture references with autobiographical content to explore an ever changing world.
This show was being devised when Covid-19 hit the world and they found themselves waiting out lockdown residing in a borrowed house which had been stripped ready for redevelopment. LAST GASP was intended as a last show for Shaw but literally became a last gasp for the house they inhabited, our democracy, and in a global pandemic for the world we all knew and had taken for granted. They devised the show using Zoom and other techniques to develop LAST GASP WFH which screened as a Zoomie in 2020. The current reimagining has Weaver alone on stage while Shaw appears on various screen formats unto near the end where she strolls onstage with script in hand and a torch. It seems a fitting reflection on theatre experience in recent years…filmed productions on computer screens, one person shows on empty stages and then a return to the familiar.
LAST GASP blends storytelling and trips down memory lane for both performers giving a satisfying sense of where they started and the journeys they have gone on. Weaver still carries the hopes, curiosities and frustrations of the little girl on the porch “cooking” beans and playing House. Peggy Shaw carries her confident sense of being right/righteous from her Protestant Bostonian heritage but it’s woven with dry acerbic humour as she reflects on her queer journey through the Seventies to today when conversations on gender politics leave her pondering…how did this old school queer end up on the wrong side of the table? This production is all about grief for the losses change brings and the redemptive possibilities when we pause and recalibrate.
Weaver uses the whole of a vast stage with few props to dance and whimsically play hide and seek with Shaw and the audience. Shaw appears on screen larger than life looking down on an sometimes childlike Weaver or pops up onscreen as though lying under a table on stage. Weaver disappears behind projection screens and pops up as though dressed to go puddle jumping. The whole effect is charming and captivating as although they both reference the issues of the aging process they also encapsulate the promise it may also bring.
This is an intelligent piece of theatre that informs and engages with ever becoming preachy. It is also deeply pragmatic and challenges concepts around disability and aging. Shaw had a stroke in 2011 that impacted her hearing and her ability to learn lines. In this production she wears hearing aids and large black headphones. They look kickass with her sharply tailored suit but also allow for Weaver to feed her her lines. These are women unapologetic for their aging bodies and all the more glorious for it. They stand strong as performers both separate on stage and together. They do a lovely take on Noah Baumbach’s film Marriage Story that plays on butch/femme dynamics. They bicker on both the professional levels of who has awards and grants, and who wants to stop performing or carry on. They bicker about infidelity within their personal relationship but the nugget of intimacy that gleams through is when Weaver picks up the others spectacles and hands them to her and Shaw smiles her appreciation. In that small exchange there is no last gasp but 153 years of words spoken and unspoken.