UNBROKEN Hendrix makes a point.
We are a complicated species — not as complicated as clown fish or moray eels, which can change genders when their own becomes boring, but complicated enough. As a demonstration that complicated isn't half of it, Leigh Hendrix is presenting How to Be a Lesbian in 10 Days or Less at Artists' Exchange in Cranston (through October 1). Hendrix, a South Carolinian now living in Providence, developed the show at Emerson College and Perishable Theatre (you can catch a sample at howto bealesbianin10daysorless.com). In about an hour of short scenes, Hendrix's carousel of three contrasting characters slowly revolves before us. The first and last is a peppy motivational speaker addressing us in a 10-day seminar; the other two are a pretentious lesbian performance artist and an unpretentious young woman we can regard as Hendrix herself.
The suit-jacketed motivational speaker is Butchy McDyke, and her unwittingly humorous presentation is as broad as her name and expansive hand gestures. Sometimes she announces an interesting subject that is sufficiently funny in its chapter heading, such as her first orgasm or advice on "appropriate lesbian haircuts and diet-ary restrictions."
At one point we have supposedly just returned from breakout sessions with lesbian counselors and, while the tone is still light, the point Ms. McDyke makes is serious. "You're almost there, folks," she says, since we didn't flee and faced down our fear.
The unnamed performance artist is more interesting as a character because she has another layer to her: vulnerability. She also uses her hands a lot, especially when trying to make a simple idea seem complex. For that purpose she utilizes a kind of slow-motion ASL for the attention-impaired (picture Jerry Maguire saying, "Let me help you.").
After she introduces herself we get a bit of modern dance with a white shawl over her head and face. But she is far too self-obsessed to not spend most of her time chattering to us, explaining the art she should be performing. She will use her body, she says, as she fights being pressed to the floor, "to resist the ever-descending bell jar of oppression" that society imposes.
Acknowledging that there might be frat boys in the audience hoping that the show will include some hot lesbian sex, she says she will use her naked body as a canvas. (Hendrix doesn't strip completely — sorry, frat boys.) She distributes Crayola markers and invites the audience to write words on her that indicate patriarchal oppression. She unintentionally reveals herself more nakedly when she notes that this is "not just a vehicle for exhibitionism," the operative word being "just."
When no one steps forward, she is taken aback and has to reassess her performance. But soon she forgives us and comes into the audience, as though proximity is the same as intimacy. Hendrix doesn't have her be maudlin about her lack of connection, which would make us mean for laughing. For purposes of defining the type, it's enough that we see her oblivious to her primary concern here — herself.