Tit Tales: A frank but comical examination of womanhood

It’s really a shame that Tit Tales, a body politics cabaret written by Marjorie Duffield ’85 and composed by Greg Pliska ’84, played at the Adams Memorial Theatre DownStage for only one weekend. It’s a shame because the show was really funny and really honest. Although the 90-seat Downstage was full for the eight o’clock performances on both Friday and Saturday nights, the ten o’clock shows played to less than full houses. Whether it was the inclement weather or uneasiness about the cabaret’s name and content that kept people at home for the later performances, it’s a shame that more of the college community did not see Tit Tales.

With a cabaret entitled Tit Tales advertised with the slogan “these breasts can kill,” one might have expected a crass performance full of vignettes written more for their shock value than their theatrical merit. However, in an hour of musical comedy about breasts, Tit Tales avoided much of the crassness and raging feminism that might not be appreciated by audience members of both sexes.

If the audience, unsure of what to expect, was not outwardly uncomfortable when the lights came up on the minimalist set of Tit Tales, it was at least a little on edge. However, the title song immediately began to quell the uneasiness. With total honesty the cabaret’s vignettes addressed subjects ranging from breast implants to mammograms to pornography. Staring Amie Bermowitz, Ali Hayden, Sheri Sanders and skillfully directed by Lori Steinburg, Tit Tales had the audience nervously giggling at first. By the cabaret’s end, however, the audience was laughing uproariously.

First, the audience was introduced to Bermowitz, a stewardess so ashamed of her small breasts that she would stuff her bra with peanuts while in the galley of the airplane. After getting implants, she finds herself without the increased self-confidence she had hoped to gain. Instead, she meets a pilot who is more interested in speaking to her chest than to her. Next, Hayden portrayed a photographer who is lured into the world of pornographic art by the promise of fast money.

In the final of the three primary scenarios, Sheri Sanders portrayed a woman unable to cope with her sister’s breast cancer. In three brutally funny e-mails about mammograms, Sanders is forced to confront her fears about both her sister’s health and the probability that someday she too will be diagnosed with cancer. “Freeze two metal bookends overnight. Invite a stranger over to your house to watch. As hard as possible, slam metal bookends against left breast. Repeat on right breast. Schedule for the stranger to come back next year,” one e-mail message read. Each of the three New York-based actresses gave strong comic performances, changing in a matter of seconds, with possibly the addition of a hat or an apron, from character to character and even male to female.

Throughout Tit Tales, the dialogue and lyrics were pointedly witty. In their cabaret, Duffield and Pliska masterfully addressed feelings and issues, which while extremely pertinent to women, are rarely discussed with much openness on stage. Such a frank presentation about mammary issues was refreshing because often, whether admittedly or not, they can be defining issues for women. As one song discreetly pointed out, it is the “clothes that make the man, but breasts that make a woman.”

Vignettes about Xena, Warrior Princess, teaching at a breast self-examination conference and Charlie’s Angels sharing a personal discussion of douching at a roller derby tournament delved into the absurd, but at the same time they were remarkably fresh and comical. Also quite witty was Sander’s Freudian performance of a song entitled “Breast Envy.” Throughout, Christine van Kipnis’s traditional cabaret-type choreography complemented the at times light musical humor. In another vignette, Bermowitz displayed her skillful command of subtlety by using the slightest transitions in her facial expressions and posture to portray various poses that a woman might assume in order to match established conceptions of the female, even when those gender stereotypes directly contrast who she actually is.

The Williamstheatre incarnation of Tit Tales was Duffield and Pliska’s third production of the cabaret. They first staged Tit Tales in workshop form at New Dramatists and most recently at the WOW Café both in New York City. Duffield is currently an artist-in-residence with the Metropolitan Opera Creating Original Opera program. Pliska, who arranged and directed the music for last year’s melodrama A Tale of Mystery , will return to Williams for the1999-2000 school year as the Arthur Levitt, Jr. ’52 artist-in-residence in theater.

Far from crass, Tit Tales was a highly enjoyable hour of musical comedy. Frankly open and unabashedly honest, the cabaret provided fare at which both female and male audience members could laugh heartily. If only for four shows, Williams is fortunate that Duffield and Pliska staged Tit Tales at their alma mater.