Thursday, November 9, 2017

Review: High Heels, Lipstick, and Other Forms of Pride

By Ed Malin

Pooya Mohseni, Iranian-American transgender performer and activist, is the star of One Woman, written by Cecilia Copeland and directed by Joan Kane.  Following a sold-out performance in the United Solo Theatre Festival, the run has been extended, so do yourself a favor and get tickets now.
We are watching a presentation by college professor Pooya Mohseni entitled The Elements of Feminism 101. She has many personal things to tell us, in her joyous,  animated fashion. A rainbow flask is standing by, stage left. Bruce A! Kraemer's projections help to outline the presentation.
Pooya embraces a clothing style that plays to her strengths (smaller hips than some, but better posture than most) which approves of the movie “Flashdance”. What, she asks, is the effect of women silently judging each other based on their clothing and shoe choices?  Having chosen to be a woman, Pooya also happens to do housework wearing stiletto heels. If high heels are simultaneously an assertion of female identity (for those who live within the gender binary) and a reminder of women’s subservient place in society, then women who hate other women for wearing heels are self-hating women.  Surely, self-hating women are much more dangerous than man-haters.  Confident women can be found wearing heels on the boardwalk at Coney Island, and, like Pooya’s aunt at brunch, will speak up when other women judge them.
Pooya also loves red lipstick, widely-recognized symbol of female power.  For those of us who don’t wear it, there follows a humorous emotional journey through many not-quite-right shades of red.  There is, so we hear, the fabled Estée Lauder “China Red”, which is unavailable.  Then there was that one lipstick Pooya once had and threw away without writing down the brand name, and could never find again.  Many is the time she has scoured cosmetics stores, without yet finding it again. And yet, she still seeks the elusive “Red Badge of Courage”.
Pooya relates how, after she physically transitioned to being a woman, she found herself going through some of the phases a teenager would.  There is an elevated need to be sexy, and also the echoes of unworthiness.  Dignified, flirtatious and vivacious, Pooya embraces life while knowing that women are likely to be abused by men and trans women are even more so.
Specifically, we hear about a relationship where her abusive partner asked to be comforted after a fight, was denied, and then tried to choke her.  What can we do to show women who feel responsible for failing relationships that it is not their fault?
Pooya and playwright Cecilia Copeland (“R-Culture”, many years of productions with New York Madness, the sci-fi TV pilot “Talatrics, etc.) are both multi-cultural and, I’m sure you agree, are speaking for the women of the world. Director Joan Kane has turned an hour lecture into an intriguing , poignant journey into full empowerment, with some Valley Girl and other inflections thrown in for good measure. Heroines surround us always.  There is Paloma Picasso, and the women in their sixties who can’t wear heels anymore but cheer on the younger ones who do. There is the charming reminder that when one goes to Rome to see the great aesthetic masterpieces such as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, one should try to wear aesthetic footwear.  And, even as we learn that Pooya has survived a violent episode, there is this credo from the great Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The sense of being perfectly well-dressed can give one a serene inner peace that religion is powerless to bestow.”  Cat Fisher has costumed Pooya in many styles (Flashdance, academic femme fatale, heels) that make her story that much more elevated.