When people hear the words “one-woman show,” they may think of the episode of Friends where Joey gives everyone a ticket to one, but Chandler ends up as the only one who goes. One-woman shows are often the subject of a throwaway gag that no one wants to go to because it will be way too “artsy,” or as joke forms of entertainment, shows that are so bad, they’re funny. While this may be the trend, there is always room for exceptions. Caroline Portu, BC ’16, has proven that with her one-woman show, Rookie Night.
Before Rookie Night began, the audience milled around the space in the Stokes Art Tent, chatting with friends and admiring the various pieces of art hung up on the walls. Portu mingled among the crowd to chat with old friends and thanking those who she knew came to see her.
Rookie Night began with an explanation of the show and a disclaimer. The audience was told that, at least for the duration of the evening, they should pretend that, instead of sitting in the Stokes Tent at Boston College’s Arts Fest, they were watching from New York City. Rookie Night would be a collection of stand-up acts by amateurs from all walks of life, giving it their best shot at the comedy club’s amateur show. Portu warned attendants that the following acts might talk about things that some might not agree with. She advised us to be receptive to different points of view, as well as to remember that the evening’s performance was all in good fun.
Portu bid the audience adieu, and disappeared off stage for a few minutes. The woman who returned to the stage bore almost no resemblance to Portu herself. She was dressed in denim overalls, a wig, and sported a blacked-out tooth. She spoke in a peppy Southern drawl as she began to give her set to the audience. She made sure to begin her set the right way—according to her, and presumably God—with a prayer. She prayed for the people she had seen on the bus to New York who had been listening to “sinful rap music.” She prayed that their souls were not “as black as the rap artist” who made the song. Portu’s character also thanked God for the “sunshine, puppies, and the death penalty.”
At this point, Rookie Night had barely gone on for 10 minutes and members of the audience were already roaring with laughter at the punchline of every joke. After her character had prayed, she sang a song called “The Second Coming’s Coming.” The song started with “Some say I’m racist, but actually just right / Jesus will come and he will be white,” and it only got funnier from there. Her character covered every salient topic that stereotypical conservative Christian Southerners are known for discussing: creationism, racism, xenophobia, bigotry, and a strong and literal understanding of the Bible. After this song, Portu’s character reminded the audience to be good people in the eyes of the Lord and, if anyone was thinking of going home to have sex, that it should better be for procreation purposes only and in missionary position, because otherwise they would go straight to the fiery pits of Hell.
While Portu changed costumes, the audience members chatted with each other, quoting lines from the previous skit and laughing again and again. When Portu reemerged, however, voices quieted down almost instantly. This time, Portu was garbed in a black t-shirt which said “Feminism is my favorite F-word” and a black short-cut wig. She began to introduce herself, but when she looked into the crowd she exclaimed “Oh there are men here?! F—k!” to the guffaws of a few especially receptive audience members. She decided that the show must go on, and challenged all of the men to stay, if they dared. She introduced herself again, and explained that the meaning of her full name roughly equated to “unreasonably strong vagina.” She then began a rant in which she conjectured studies that showed “men are physically incapable of emotion” and other stereotypical “extremist men-hating feminist” arguments. After her spiel, she presented a poem that began with “Penises or knives, scrotums or swords, semen or anthrax” and ended with “For I am women, and if you aren’t one then I probably hate you.” This was only the beginning of the poetry the audience was treated to by Portu’s feminist character, who was apparently quite fond of haikus. Among these haikus were “Chivalry is dead / I don’t even care that much / F—k you Lancelot!” and “Stand up for women / Because if you choose not to / His boner will stand.” This poetic and penultimate performance was, of course, met by thunderous applause from the dozens of attendants.
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For Portu’s last character bit, she returned to the stage as a bearded man named Fletcher, who couldn’t decide if he wanted his name to be something more “underground” like “River” instead. Fletcher/River carried a ukulele and explained that he had graduated from Oberlin College with a major in English Literature and a minor in English Literature Illustrations. After trying for a full two weeks to find a job in line with his musical passion in the Mongolian Electro-Folk music made by blind androgynous farmer-monks scene, Fletcher/River gave up. He spent every last penny he had on Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. Throughout his stand-up, he strummed a few singers across the ukulele he carried, but later admitted that he had no idea how to play the instrument. At the end of the bit, Fletcher/River hocked a few pictures he had taken to the audience. Among them were a tree that he had seen the essence of his grandmother in, a squirrel, a button, and the front of an Enterprise store. Fletcher/River peddled his Instagram before leaving the stage and ending Portu’s in-character performance.
When Portu returned, she was herself again. She spoke eloquently about the nature of the show, and sang a song about the different viewpoints we hear in our daily life. Her ending speech and song captured the entire point of Rookie Night.
Often, we surround ourselves with people who believe the same things we do. We can use things like Facebook feeds to selectively see information and sources we feel are credible, but are more in line with our thoughts. By doing this, we enter a sort of echo chamber in which we view ourselves, and those with similar viewpoints, as the only people who know the truth and are doing the right thing. We mischaracterize groups with whom we don’t identify. Portu’s characters capture this sort of “othering” that people have tendencies to do. Her first character is a caricature of a conservative Christian. People with different viewpoints conjure this image of those on the other side of the issue as blatant racists, bigots, misogynists, xenophobes, and Bible-thumping hicks when really they are just people. Her second character is a “feminist,” but not in any actual sense of the word. Real feminists aren’t men-hating idealists with no sense of the real world, and that is the point Portu tries to make with her show. The country girl, the feminist, and the hipster are all the most extreme version of their group, and yet often people who are opponents of that group believe everyone is just like them.
In order to truly understand an issue, or even a group of people, we need to be willing to take a few steps back. There is no way to really bring about change, compromise, or agreement unless people are willing to try to understand each other. Portu made this heavy and important message humorous, but Rookie Night conveyed its meaning expertly.
Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Editor