I have to admit, I was kind of excited to see "Pieces (of Ass)," the just-opened off-Broadway show that bills itself as a window into "hot chick angst." I wasn't sure what to expect -- advance publicity trumpeted one-off appearances by B-list bombshells rotating through the regular cast of no-list bombshells -- but I was hoping for a little harmless campy fun.
Though a voice-mail message from the guy who conceived and directed the series of monologues by beautiful women, Brian Howie, in which he identified himself as "the Piecemaster," ought to have rendered me cautious, I was nevertheless surprised by the rowdy, mostly male crowd filling the East Village theater's bar area last Thursday before the play began. When did loud, boisterous 20-something men in suits and their hand-slapping, chest-thumping, Bud-drinking, T-shirt-and-jeans-wearing brethren start going to the theater? And who were these miniskirted women responding to their none-too-subtle advances?
"How about that bar scene?" whispers the woman sitting next to me, who was reviewing the play for another publication. "Have you ever seen anything like that? And what's up with the mud-flap girls?"
I turn to the stage and, forcing my eyes to focus in the fuchsia strip-club lighting, see what she's talking about: two large cutouts of those shapely female profiles oft-seen flippety-flipping over the wheels of 18-wheelers. Also onstage: a big round opening through which the aforementioned ass pieces will presumably emerge, a crisscross of walkways on which they will strut, a couple of monitors displaying the show's trademarked (!) title, a provocatively dressed blond DJ behind a mixing table, and -- suddenly -- one of the drunk guys from the bar, making his way along the edge of the stage to his front-row seat. Apparently caught up in the moment, he stops center stage, turns toward the audience and convulses in a sort of a frat-boy hip thrust. Fist punching the air, he hollers something completely unintelligible, hoots and crumples into his seat, his friends scrambling to thwack him on the back.
The woman next to me and I exchange pointed looks. "Doesn't seem like a very good sign," she says.
The pink lights dim and the monitors flicker to life. A series of attractive women on-screen recount names men have called them in bars and as they walk down the street.
"You know what I kind of like?" says one. "Piece of ass. It's kind of primal and sexy."
With that, the lights go up on Megan Brown. Dressed in high heels, low-slung cargo pants, a low-cut, midriff-revealing blouse and way, way too much makeup, redheaded Megan struts onto the stage. As she begins to speak, the loud music dies down, but, alas, the hoots and catcalls do not.
Megan informs us that, though the show is the brainchild of a man, whom she derides as a "jackass" (Howie, for his part, told the New Yorker that attractive women are "all crazy" and that "the show should be called 'Pains in the Ass'"), the stories within it are the women's own. Her story, however, is a little difficult to focus on, so distracting are those hooting boys upfront. But a few choice phrases do manage to break through the testosterone haze clouding the footlights.
"Scarlett O'Hara knew what her attributes were and she wasn't afraid to flaunt them," Megan says, undoing a few buttons of her blouse. Hoot. Hooooooooooooooot.
Megan's body is ours "to behold, to evaluate, to critique and to judge," she tells us, hands on hips, striking a provocative pose. "I am just the caretaker." Hoot. Hoooooooooooooooot.
"This show is not about being pretty. You don't necessarily want to fuck pretty." Hoooooooooooooot.
"Would you have bothered to show up if it was 'Pieces of Fat Ass'?" My friend would!
Megan beats a quick exit from the stage, leaving the boys down front to wonder why she'd taunted them with big talk and an alarming amount of finger licking and never actually taken off her clothes.
Me, I'm wondering what a possibly nice girl like Megan is doing in a place like this.
Next up is Samantha Ross who announces that she was "supposed to be a boy," then waits for the audience to take in her decidedly nonboyish looks. A long-haired brunette, Samantha is wearing a dark fur coat over black and purple lace underwear, thigh-high stockings and 5-inch heels.
Her monologue is about the importance of penis size -- or, as she so delicately puts it, "really big dicks" -- the monotony of having her "perky breasts" praised by would-be beaus and how life has disappointed her in its dissimilarity to "The Thorn Birds," which she now realizes is "a fucking lie."
At some point she sheds the fur for effect, but more arresting is the moment when she gets ticked at the rowdies down front.
"Can I finish?" she snaps.
Mercifully, she eventually does.
As the evening progresses, it dawns on me that some of the women in this show may well believe that they're doing some sort of feminist, empowering, "Vagina Monologues"-esque turn. Their stories deride men -- for being shallow, stupid, selfish and overly concerned with physical appearance and attributes, for failing to see the women's inner beauty -- but, alas, under Howie's direction, they often come off as shallow, exploitative, self-absorbed and none too bright themselves.
The makeup, the clothing, the high heels, the pink lighting and strip-club house music: If they're intended to be seriously provocative, the show's a big tease, tackling as it occasionally does some fairly serious topics. If it's all a big joke, some of these actresses don't seem to have gotten that particular memo. And if the strip-club accoutrements are meant to be ironic, well, the irony is clearly lost on the predominantly male audience.
The women in the sold-out audience the night I saw the show, meanwhile, sat in what I read as stunned silence, seemingly baffled as to what to make of it all.
Or maybe that was just me.
The rowdies down front are at their worst for Dhianna Nicole Baxter, among the evening's most passionate performers.
"What's this weird obsession with colored pussy?" she asks, letting the light play off the coffee-colored skin on display beneath her sparkly gold bra top and white palazzo pants.
The boys respond appreciatively to the p-word.
"Yeah, you know," she says amiably to one of them.
"No, he doesn't," hollers his buddy, to much laughter.
Furious at the slight, Dhianna tears through the rest of her monologue like she's ripping this guy a new (piece of) asshole.
She also rips into those guys who tell her, "You sure are pretty for a black girl," and the ones who ask her, "What are you?"
In response to the latter, she divides herself up into sections: She's got Asian tits, Brazilian hips, Latina eyes. But she's not really playing along. In fact, she's pissed about being seen as no more than a sum of her pretty parts.
"Don't talk to me as if I am a legless pet," she barks.
But if Dhianna is trying to make a real statement about the dangers (or at least the irritating inadequacy) of defining women by their looks -- as a quick glance at her bio in the program, which notes that she attended Duke University, traveled to Egypt with a feminist psychologist to help Arab women, and considers herself a writer as well as an actress, would indicate -- she might have stood firm against parading around the stage in fuck-me stilettos. They really undercut her point.
As does the performer who follows her, micro-miniskirted Heidi Kristoffer. Heidi's big revelation? All blondes are not stupid. In fact, she's so smart, she's figured out that men can be tricked into thinking she has a fiancé by virtue of the fact that she sports a fake 4-karat engagement ring. "Condoms can only protect so much; having a boyfriend is way safer," she giggles.
Tami Mansfield, a marginally more modestly dressed brunette (her heels are only about 3 inches high), for whom the pink lighting recedes, offers some relief from the Heidis of the evening. Her two-part tale begins with a rather perverse childhood story about dressing up and competing with her pretty cousin for the leg-humping attentions of a horny dog. The girls' alarmed grandmother puts a stop to the canine action, chiding the girls for not simply telling him to get down. "Our bodies are sacred," Granny said.
"Yeah, whatever, Grandma."
The front-row hoots falter and then stop altogether when Tami offers Part 2 of her story: Having "dressed for battle," as she puts it, to win the high-school attention of a horny ex-boyfriend, she ends up being raped by him, only to be comforted by that same cousin.
Tami's message is a little unclear. Is she holding herself -- and her provocative dress -- accountable for her own rape? Need we be molested by a man to appreciate and bond with our fellow women?
Certainly it raises some of the same issues the show itself raises. By dressing sexily, are these women "asking for it"? (If you lie down with dogs ...) Can those fellows down front, and their ilk, be faulted for verbally lunging at these tauntingly dressed "bombshells," as they are touted? If women want to be taken seriously, must they eschew spike heels? Or must they play the game and dress the part to get noticed -- and then slip in their message where they can?
If only "Pieces (of Ass)" had more of a message to slip in.
But alas, after Tami, we get the evening's "CenterPIECE," the B-list bombshell, Kirsten Buschbacher, an average-looking dirty blonde in a lounge-singer-esque pantsuit. Kirsten's chief claim to fame is having appeared on "The Bachelor," and you might hope she had something to say about the experience and the show's startlingly widespread appeal. (Krista Allen of "Baywatch Hawaii," swimsuit model Carol Grow, "Survivor" winner Jenna Morasca and Trishelle Cannatella from MTV's "Real World" are also scheduled to appear during the show's New York run, before it moves to Los Angeles.) But no, Kirsten reads a letter informing her, quite persuasively, that smart women don't go on stupid TV shows and act like idiots in front of the world. What does she learn from this piece of nonfan "fan mail"? Nada. She's merely irritated that the letter writer has spelled her name wrong.
The show does have a few other highlights, mostly the lighter fare: Rachel Hollon's sheepish ode to "granny panties," Leigh Elliott's funny rant about being overshadowed by a boyfriend even more attractive than she, Laurel Pinson's almost-moving tribute to her bed and declaration of her ardent wish to meet a man who will remember her beauty long after it's faded. It also has more groaners, like Sara Rae Gore's love letter to beauty pageants, in which she declares, "Life is all about being judged. At least then I knew what the criteria were."
Finally, the blond DJ comes out from behind her table and takes center stage as the rest of the women file back on. Turns out someone once called her "eminently fuckable" and the phrase pissed her off.
"I'm just out to have a good time with my friends," says she, "so quit bothering us with all this wordy shit."
I'm sure the fellas down front couldn't have said it better themselves.