Watching Toni Silver in her one-woman performance of Shame Lips has convinced me that growing old gracefully is harder than I thought. In fact, it might be a myth altogether. In this latest piece, Toni “performs adventures from her life, as a ploy to stave off death,” as her press release facetiously contends. Using a casual conversational style punctuated by humor and sadness, Toni unselfconsciously comes unhinged in front of her audience, in a performance alive with honesty and spunk. The show is set at Stage Left Theater, which—charmingly—is the apartment of Cheryl King, the theater owner, adding to the intimate ambiance of the affair.
Our introduction begins when Toni steps out onto the stage clad in a t-shirt and tutu, waiting for the introductory music to finish (a song about her), staring wide-eyed at the crowd like a scared little girl in her first recital. This sets the tone for the entire show, as, with a childlike candor, she relates some pivotal events of her life: her first sexual experience, coming out to her parents (in a McDonald’s parking lot!), being Lauren Bacall’s personal assistant, and an amusing but heart-rending stint in a mental institution. Although the show on the surface seems tailored toward more mature gay women, I think that it appeals to everyone, because basic themes of love, isolation, and uncertainty are universal. I, myself, appreciated her descriptions of growing up a gay teenager in the ‘60s, when even Liberace would not come out of the closet.
Even though Toni says that Shame Lips is just a cool name (based on the German for Labia Majora) she thought to give her show, the name fits the essence of the piece very well, as she “reveals” just what her playful tutu might be hiding- that life is perhaps stranger and more fleeting than we are taught to believe. She does not offer an answer, only that through all of her experience, she is still human, still scared, and still crazy…just like the rest of us.
Shame Lips is part of the Women at Work Festival, on November 13, 20, and 22. All shows start promptly at 8pm at Stage Left Theater, 438 W 37th St, Suite 5A, NYC.