Review: "No Pants in Tucson" Illuminates Why It Matters Who Wears the Britches
No Pants in Tucson
Devised by The Anthropologists
Director/Writer: Melissa Moschitto
Lead Deviser: Mariah Freda
Presented by The Anthropologists at A.R.T./New York Theatres
502 W 53rd Street, Manhattan, NYC
November 5-14, 2021
|Mariah Freda, Kian J. Johnson, April J. Barber, Marissa Joyce Stamps. Photo by Jody Christopherson|
Throughout its short, titled chapters, No Pants introduces us to various figures who did not conform to the laws and expectations concerning gendered clothing—the consequences of which comprise a litany of arrests, fines, jailings, and institutionalizations. One such figure is Emma Snodgrass (Marissa Joyce Stamps), who was arrested multiple times in multiple cities in the 1850s for dressing in apparel designated male (i.e., pants and frock coats). Snodgrass possessed the funds to pay her fines, but others, the play reminds us, were not so lucky. We also hear from Dr. Mary Edwards Walker (Mariah Freda), the first woman U.S. Army surgeon and the only woman to receive the Medal of Honor, for her service during the Civil War, and who was pelted with eggs in the street and herself arrested a number of times for her sartorial transgressions; as well as Harry Allen (Kian J. Johnson), born Nell Pickerell in 1882, who reiterates here that he just wants to be let alone to live his life, a life belonging to a person and not an object of confusion, study, or sensationalism.
|Mariah Freda, Kian J. Johnson, Marissa Joyce Stamps. Photo by Jody Christopherson|
No Pants presents its era-spanning vignettes on a bare stage with lighting elements that use the same hoop skirt cages—yes, the actual term is that on the nose—worn by some of the performers. It makes some striking use of colored backlighting at various points and uses dance for the lively exposition of different ordinances (some, it must be pointed out, from the 1960s!). The performance is a true ensemble piece, with the talented, energetic cast afforded individual moments in the spotlight while working as a seamless whole.
|Mariah Freda, April J. Barber, Marissa Joyce Stamps. Photo by Jody Christopherson|
"Not yet," however, can also serve as a spur to continue the intersecting struggles with which No Pants in Tucson engages. For those who want to learn more, some historical context is provided on screens outside the theater, and the extensive electronic program includes, among other information, a selected bibliography of works consulted in research for and/or quoted in the play and a link to a recording of a conversation with reproductive and transgender rights experts. No Pants in Tucson brings increasingly unrestrained humor and sparkle to its subject without in any way diminishing that subject's history of widespread cruelties and individual courage—a potent, tremendously entertaining mixture.
-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards