"I could feel my gonads shrinking," said Corb, as soon as we were a safe distance away from the theater.
What was the name of the play that received such a gonastic review from my man? It's a musical called "Respect: A Musical Journey," which is currently playing at the Stuart Street Playhouse in Boston. And other cities across the country, too. But for us, it was Bahston.
The tickets to the show were a gift from Josie, who has a friend at her work who likes to hand her cool stuff, from time to time. This time around, he gave her comps to the Friday and Saturday performances of Respect. So, Josie dragged Andrew to see the Friday night performance, and offered me the pair for Saturday.
Since it was such a beautiful week-end, Corb and I decided to take her up on the offer, and make a night in Boston out of it: McCormick & Schmicks for supper, followed by the show, and then a room at the Marriott Long Wharf hotel, right by the New England Aquarium.
What we didn't realize at th time we set out on our night's journey was that this "musical journey" was going to force us to spend three hours of our lives surrounded by dozens of middle-aged ladies wearing a rainbow assortment of feather boas, all celebrating their womenhood. This became apparent the minute we stepped into the auditorium: "Respect," it seems, is an acceptable substitute for members of the red hat society on those nights when Mama Mia isn't in town.
Respect, you see, is the brainchild of Vanderbilt professor Dr. Dorothy Marcic, who decided to take it upon herself to analyze all the Top-40 female song lyrics since 1900. According to its website, the show "Combines excerpts of 60 songs with women's own stories about finding dreams, lost love, relationship issues, entering the workforce, gaining independence, and more...this show is 'exhilarating!'"
But enough of the hype. What the show does, beyond that, is combine 60 years of music into its first act, from 'I'm Just a Bird in a Gilded Cage' to 'Stand by Your Man.' The point being...because there is a point...I mean, come on, this musical was written by a college professor, after all...is that, with the exception of a few blips on the radar screen (women's suffrage, the 6 million working class women in America during World War II), these six decades were essentially one long chorus of "Stand by Your Man."
Of course, the flip of that takes place in Act Two, when the sixties and seventies enter like a sonic boom, and women come a long way, baby. Fully three-quarters of the second act is devoted to these two decades, and thank the lord for that, because that's the point where the show actually starts to build up some steam. Those boas, which hung, limp and lifeless, from the frames of the dames in the audience during Act One, suddenly start to spring to life.
The feathers first started to come to life during "These Boots Were Made for Walking." That was when Corb and I start to look at each other, nervously. They grew even more aggressive during "I Am Woman." And, do I even have to mention what started to take place when one of the performers started to belt out "I Will Survive"? The boas were high-flying, adored, by that point! They were everywhere! Everywhere! All lime green and red and purple. I felt as though I had been thrust into the movie "Snakes on a Plane." These women BELIEVED!
Now, you have to keep in mind--the ratio of men to women was, like, 50 to 1. Corb and I were in a distinct minority (although Josie tells me there were a lot more guys on the night she went). Corb and I were surrounded by womenhood, and growing increasingly frightened as the ladies around us started to go wild. We had women dancing behind us, dancing in front of us, dancing to the side. Women, big and small, shaking their butts, wiggling their arms, throwing back their hair, hooting and hollering.
Scared? We weren't the only ones. A quick glance revealed that only one lone man had the nerve to stand up and start dancing along. Brave soul. The rest of us just sat there, with our pocketbooks on our laps, our lips pursed in a slightly disapproving smile.
The point of the journey, of course, was to demonstrate how far women have come in 100-plus years. So of course, it was inevitable that it was going to build into a frenzy. How could it not?
However, I have to confess, I think they had to stretch a bit at the end. The cracks started to show as we left the seventies, with "I've Never Been to Me," surely an unfortunate choice, since it may hold a place in history as the most horrific song of all time ("I've moved like Harlow in Monte Carlo and showed 'em what I've got..."). The lady next to me, by the way, was profoundly moved by this song, and took it upon herself to belt out every line.
Then we moved into "Hero," "In My Daughter's Eyes," and "Video." All good choices, since the show's intent is to point out that the stereotype under which women have labored under for so many decades had finally been eradicated.
But let's be honest here: it wasn't hard to see that the show's deck has been stacked by its academic author. Much time was spent in the first act vilifying poor Betty Boop as the model of a brainless female, interested in only one thing: snagging a man. The second act was designed to applaud society for the progress that has been made, since then.
But in some ways, that's all smoke and mirrors. These days, songs such as "My Humps," "Promiscuous," and anything by Paris Hilton are every bit as demeaning and derogatory as anything a cartoon character in the twenties served up. As Pink sings in her brilliant song, "Stupid Girls": "What happened to the dreams of a girl president? She's dancing in the video next to 50 Cent."
Oh, and about that girl president. In order to ensure that a pleasant time was had by all, another inconvenient truth was sidestepped. During the show, images of female icons were displayed left and right: Mother Theresa, Maggie Thacher, Marilyn Monroe, Christa McAuliffe. Who was missing from the party? Hillary Clinton, of course, because she's such a controversial figure. Even though she's the first women to ever have a truly legitimate shot at being elected President of the United States. The omission had to be deliberate.
The evening came to a close with, of course, R-E-S-P-E-C-T, the Aretha Franklin classic, by which time, the joint was totally hopping, and Corb and I were just clinging to our seats, praying for our lives. What could possibly top Aretha? What curtain call could soar any higher? Nothing but another rousing rendition of "I Will Survive," this time sung by all four performers in the cast.
It was at this point, right in the middle of "At first I was afraid, I was petrified," that something occurred to me.
As I sat there, watching the women around me shucking and jiving, finding their maidenhead in a Gloria Gaynor disco classic, I suddenly had an epiphany.
It became clear...something that had been nagging at me all night long, but I had been unable to find a voice for.
"I Will Survive."
"These Boots Were Made for Walking."
Even "Stand By Your Man."
Suddenly, the clear and direct connection between the female mystique and gay men everywhere became obvious. We share these songs as common anthems, common rallying cries. These women surrounding me, flapping their boas, holding their heads high, could just as well be the guys dancing (and in some cases, flapping their own boas) to these very same songs at any bar in Boston, just miles away.
Except, of course, for one thing. Women are far more accepting of their sisters than the gay culture is of their brethren. The women on stage and in the audience around me came in all shapes and sizes: thin, overweight, old. In gay circles, the overweight and the old would surely have been shoved out of the spotlight. Only the young and fabulous need apply.
Even so. I left the theater pleased to witness such an outpouring of joy, of pride, of love. Josie said she left the show with tears in her eyes, and I can see why. We all want...no, need...just a little respect.
We had a delicious meal at McCormick & Schmicks that night, before the show. I had swordfish, and Corb enjoyed shrimp and scallops on a fresh bed of fettuccine. We sat in the open air, with a gorgeous view of Faneuil Hall, and the great spectacle that the first nice week-end in spring will inevitably bring.
And one other thing. Amid the street performers and laughing college kids, two men, carrying posters and passing out pamphlets, stood station quite lose to where we enjoyed our meal. One, an old man with an unruly mass of white whiskers, had a big sign strapped on to his back: Leviticus 18:21 “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.”
I chose to push my chair in the opposite direction and look the other way. Just part of life's rich fabric, right?
If I had seen the show at that point, I might have thought, sarcastically, one thing:
"You've come a long way, baby."
We've all got some further progress to make.