Review On A Terrible Show for Terrible People


Mark Hein

Registered Critic


"A Terrible Show for Terrible People" sounds like a slam from a prudish critic.

And in this fast, funny hour, Bonnie He does nudge her way wordlessly across boundaries and into matters -- all of them about the human body -- that would send prudes racing for the door. But the people who stay (100% of the full house I was in) are not terrible people. We're just plain folks, who shriek with laughter as He's witty mocking reveals truths about ourselves and our bodies that we only talk about privately. If at all.

You can leave this confection of a show feeling well and fully entertained.

Or you may also feel a bit thoughtful. That's no accident.  For this comic dance is also a sharp satire that carves past skin and flesh to our very core.

You might notice, for example, that the body at the center of things is a woman's. The publicity hints at a burlesque show, and our demure hostess starts stripping off her long black gloves. But for all the flirting and teasing, it's not her body under her clothes (or later, under her bra and panties) but a skin-tight black unitard. She seems to be urging us to ask, "What did we hope to see? and why?" Did we all walk into this theater willing to join in the male fantasy gaze at a naked female body? If so, we got a rude awakening -- inglorious intimate views of what a female body actually does in this world.

You might notice that all the show's moments and encounters are initiated by a woman, and told from a woman's point of view. Indeed, several bits of humor seemed to pass right over the the heads of the men in the house; others had women on the floor while men merely chuckled. So we may have entered in a patriarchal frame of mind, but we could not possibly leave that way.

You might notice that as she entered, Ms. He held her hands folded and shuffled her feet, evoking the stereotype of the subservient Asian woman. (The image that drives the mail-order bride industry.) She then proceeded to take charge of the stage, the story, and several audience members -- mostly male -- whom she dragged into the limelight.

Bonnie He presents as a silent clown, a long Euro-American tradition that goes back to Marcel Marceau, Laurel & Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, and the mummers of the Middle Ages.  She also recalls an even longer Asian tradition --  whiteface entertainers, from geishas to kabuki actors and beyond. And the way her bawdy comedy hides a subtle but piercing satire calls to mind the bold Japanese actresses who 400 years ago created the original kabuki -- known as onna-kabuki, or "women behaving terribly." I thought I heard them applauding with us at the end.