'The Superheroine Monologues' Features Damsels in Distress
If erring is divine, some of us are the holiest rollers alive. We all make mistakes, stupid blunders and terrible choices that lead us to sift through the wreckage of our lives and ask one question over and over: What was I fucking thinking?
One such mistake was made last Saturday evening. Two plays presented themselves as review possibilities at Orange County's standout storefront, the Chance Theater. The mainstage show was an award-winning musical from New York, The Boy In the Bathroom, about a boy who has spent a year in a bathroom. No joke. And then there was the late-night show: The Superheroine Monologues, billed as a naughty "parody of super proportions."
Spandex won out over the toilet, but I can't imagine The Boy In the Bathroom being any shittier than The Superheroine Monologues. It's not funny, naughty or even more than mildly entertaining. This John Kuntz/Rick Park snorefest isn't just a 70-minute waste of time; it could also very well roll back any advances women have made since the era when our first super-studette, Wonder Woman, first appeared. That would be 1941, a time when every female lived for male attention and finding a husband was her entire reason for being.
At least that's what you get from Wondy's monologue. Imagine you are the strongest, fastest, bravest, most kick-ass chick on the planet, but it's not until a U.S. military agent crashes on your island that your life truly begins. Steve Trevor is the first man Wondy has laid eyes on. She falls for him blindly and passionately and returns him to the United States, where she aids him in fighting the Nazi terror.
Rarely has facing ultimate evil felt so trivial.
Men, or the lack thereof, suffuse most of the other monologues, from Lois Lane's lifelong pursuit of Clark Kent/Superman and Catwoman's feline lust for Batman to Storm's relationship with T'Challa, a.k.a. the Black Panther. (Batgirl also delivers a monologue, but, frankly, by that time, I was halfway through my mental grocery list, so I don't remember a whole lot of what she talked about.) Supergirl's monologue isn't about men—because she's a lesbian. Sure, she's not pining for a man, but once again, a woman with incredible powers is reduced to mere sexuality. The final monologue, delivered by an older version of Wonder Woman, isn't about sexual identity. It's the playwrights' lame attempt to tie everything together by honoring this character as paving the way for the rest.
The cast does as much as it can with such pedestrian, superficial material, but the overall result is maddeningly frustrating. Sure, these are male-created fictional characters who, in their earliest incarnations (particularly Wonder Woman and Lois Lane), were paper-thin caricatures that spoke to two ubiquitous male fantasies: 1) a super-powerful (and ultra-hot) woman who could kick your ass, but actually adores you, and 2) a smart, self-reliant woman who was equally captive to men. But to drain these six characters of any dimension other than their sexual identity is a cheap affront, insulting to not only women, but also anyone who senses the mythological trappings of the superhero concept, something Joseph Campbell would describe as a monomyth of the hero's journey. The only journey these characters seem interested in leads straight to the boudoir.
Yes, female heroes in comics are always bombshells wearing skimpy outfits and historically have been woefully underdeveloped compared to their male counterparts. But rather than using their roles as a forum to address that—or anything else remotely thought-provoking—their treatment in The Superheroine Monologues is just as cliché and trite. They are super-powered Barbies, inarticulate and ineffectual playthings who seem driven not by combating injustice or complicated pasts, but by their hormones. The only quest these super-women seem motivated by is the quest for cock. (Or, in Supergirl's case, vagina.) It's all terribly superfluous, and it could have been saved had these women's sexuality been as supercharged as their powers. But it isn't. They pine but rarely yearn, brood but seldom crave, reminiscence but never take real action.
The Superheroine Monologues' main injustice is that it falls flat on two fronts: It will infuriate devotees of comics, and it will convince non-comics fans that their reasons to write off the genre as vibrantly colored dreck are absolutely correct. And where the fuck are the Black Canary and the Black Widow? If you want to give us eye candy, then at least provide the juiciest nuggets.
This review appeared in print as "Damsels In Distress: The Superheroine Monologues reduces the bad-ass women of comics to simpering wimps."
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