By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Susan Miller, in My Left Breast, also finds herself straying onto a potential minefield of controversy, only to tiptoe out of it before expressing an opinion. She reports how, when one gay man told her how lucky women are because "they don't get AIDS," she calmly reminded him that women are prone to breast and ovarian cancer, and, yes, do get AIDS. But just when you think she is going to talk about whether or not AIDS is a "worse" disease than breast cancer, which annually kills more women in America than AIDS does men, she gently drops the subject. When it comes to this can of worms, no one's looking for an opener.
Still, Miller is a personable performer, a sprightly woman in her 50s who was stricken by cancer at 36 while raising a son alone, and who found a friend in cocaine. Her piece, which won an Obie, is more polished than Gates Fujikawa's, although sometimes the delivery of her poetical material, directed by Nela Wagman, has the air of a reading about it. The 70-minute-long evening also comes off as strangely vague in parts - who was the father of her son, anyway? We never hear a word about him, getting, instead, a little more than we care to know about an ex-lover named Fran. What gives My Left Breast its special dignity is that, being a play about an illness, it doesn't beg for sympathy; we uneasily intuit from line one that Miller's going to bare more than her soul during this show, but when she finally does remove part of her shirt, she doesn't come off as another middle-class exhibitionist charging admission to her pain.
In spite of their seemingly extreme circumstances, neither Gates Fujikawa's nor Miller's performance leaves the viewer feeling voyeuristic or distant from these two very different human experiences. Both shows suggest that the greater the identity gap between performer and audience, the less alienated or "different" the viewer may feel from the storyteller, unintentionally pulling the rug from under the very notion of identity politics. (This is also evident in Jimmy Tingle's charming satirical show when, at one point, he learns, after all these years, his father's side of the family is not Scots- Irish Catholic, but solid English. It's as though Tingle, a man of Mark Twain-ish wit who, it may be said, climbed out of working-class Boston on his family's hyphens, suddenly had everything he knew about the world turned on its head.)
It is one of the tarter millennial ironies that as we enter the post-space age, the melting pot, a seemingly indestructible icon of the American imagination, has all but been forgotten, a discarded metaphor of ragtime optimism cracked wider than the Liberty Bell. Perhaps its promise was too premature a vision to realize in this century, perhaps it will never be realized. With no such talisman to guide us into the next century, it may once again be the turn of theater to give us a national identity - by telling us not only who we are, but who we are not.