Theater archives

Miss America


A fusillade of iconography, mesmerizing and mystifying by turns, Split Britches’ Miss America evokes the hungover mood of the late Bush era, even as the cultural ghosts it tries to exorcise never come entirely into focus. Elegy remains the dominant tone throughout, from Peggy Shaw’s wounded posture in a recurrent pose—prone on the floor with one shoe off—to the numerous name-checks of an East Village fading into the past (Joseph Chaikin, the Second Avenue Deli). Shaw and partner Lois Weaver take aim at political targets, including the titular pageant, the ravaging of the environment, and the nightmare history of American foreign policy. But these broadsides end up feeling rather perfunctory: Miss America isn’t the gender hegemon she used to be, and the grand abstraction of some of the show’s critique risks sharing its targets’ hubris. What saves the piece, ultimately, is the intricate pas de deux of Shaw and Weaver’s work together. In Chaplinesque suit and Keatonesque stone face, Shaw brings an incandescence to Miss America’s occasional vaudevillian soft-shoe and pantomime; she and Weaver spar like the seasoned double act they’ve become over the decades. A 21st-century Didi and Gogo, they survey the ongoing wreckage together and, with loving cruelty, keep moving forward.