Lisa Lusero's boyish, austere body is a draftsman's sketch of curves and angles, plain-faced with round glasses and an eighth of an inch of fuzz covering its scalp. But in the course of her one-woman theater piece Impossible Body, performed without props or costumes (and sometimes even without stage lighting), Lusero's body is all she uses to tackle personal issues on the subject of being a lesbian Chicana, something she somehow manages to do without appearing strident or victimized. There's a little girl in the 23-year-old performer's uncertain voice, an instrument that rises questioningly at every turn. Like some other young artists, she's moving on an uncharted course.
"Here's the funny thing," Lusero says. "I had agreed to do a reading of a new piece, but I had no idea what it would be." She was asked to stage a new work, and as the performance date approached, the organizers--who wanted to start publicizing it--asked her what it was called. "I not only didn't know, but I hadn't written anything," she says. "So I wrote the title first."
And that worked out well for her.
"The title turned out to be good tool," Lusero says. "As I started writing, it was an anchor." She'd keep coming back to it, asking herself, "Okay, Impossible Body--what does this mean?" The piece then came together organically in a patchwork of random ideas and journal entries about gender and sexuality. "It was through a combination of sheer necessity and creative impulse that it turned out as a one-woman show," Lusero adds. "I found it was easier to coordinate things with myself." But she's quick to mention director Gretchen Haley, a mentor who's contributed to the final shape of the piece.
A staunch practitioner of the Lily Tomlin school of assumed identities, Lusero steps into a number of self-invented characters. Many of them act as stock templates designed to engage a general audience. One of her favorites, based on the right-wing, conservative archetype, is simply called U.S. Senator. Lusero admits he's a stereotypical portrayal, but she says it's one worth exploring: "There's something about this political figure and the fire in his language I can relate to. And there's something interesting about seeing someone who's perceived as a radical dyke inhabiting a conservative-white-male persona."
Another of Lusero's on-stage personas is White, Middle-Aged Suburban Mother of Two, an additional attempt at understanding the opposition. "I wanted to get inside the head of a person whose heart is broken by her child's gayness," she says. "She's not somebody I'd necessarily understand through direct personal experience."
"She was hardest to get. I was relating to it too much from my side--I kept hearing the voice in my own head instead of hearing it in her voice."
How did Lusero finally hit Suburban Mother gold? "I wrote a lot of bad stuff," she says. "You have to get the dumb stuff out. Then it's a matter of sitting with it. She finally came to me on a plane while I was flying to Washington state for a performance. I knew the character wasn't working, and I was sitting there. There's something about being in a plane. It's like time is on hold--there's something magical about it.
"So I was thinking, okay, what does Suburban Mom want? I started to think, 'I want...,' and it flowed from there: I want...to be beautiful. I want...grandkids. Finally, I was asking myself the right questions to allow her to speak through me." Predictably, Lusero says women have come up to her after shows claiming to be Suburban Mother, which makes her feel as if she's written a true part.
Closer to home is Sexy Chicana Woman, someone she encountered and even admired at school and among family members while growing up in Longmont. "I saw them successfully inhabiting that space," she says, "while in my non-apparent Hispanicness--my non-apparent femininity, even--I just sat and watched. It's so different from me, but I'm in touch with the texture and the nuances of that persona. I made the character so I'd have a chance to go inside that and try it on."
Impossible Body, a semi-scripted work dancing on an improvisational high wire, is still evolving. "Now that I let it have its own shape, the audience affects the piece dramatically," Lusero says. "Sometimes people will talk back. For instance, one character actually comes on to the audience. Some women have gone with the coming-on-to-them scene more than others, which allows for some fun."
To date, Lusero admits, that audience has been narrow. "The truth is, the bulk of my audience has been queer-identified," she says. "But I didn't write it that way." Though much of the piece is derived from specific autobiographical details, she feels it's that very quality, in its stripped-down form, that opens up issues to a whole range of people. "There are no frills," Lusero explains. "I built it that way. It sets up a relaxed, intimate environment that's little in terms of content and structure, built to be small and intimate, to relate on a personal level."
But then again, she hopes there's more to it than that. "I'm always a little unsatisfied with pieces that are simply autobiographical," Lucero says. "By bringing in other characters, and partly because of the structure, it's not just like telling my life story. I built it as an example to be read and experienced as a model of a life lived.
"I'm saying, here are moments from my life, these were the choices I made, these are the things that are framing those choices, these are the elements affecting them. Look where it goes. Look what might happen."
Impossible Body, by Lisa Lusero, 8 p.m. July 17-25, Heart Studio, 4325 41st Avenue, $5, 458-0592.