Dress Rehearsal

The Bible says Eve succumbed to the apple, but most women secretly know it was probably something more like a shoe. Fashion may be femininity's most basic foible, something women embrace and spurn with equal zeal, but either way, gals just can't seem to escape the effects of its powerful sorcery.

Fashion, then, is a natural theme for Herstory 10/We Are What We Wear: Women and Clothing, a new revue by Her Acting Group, a mostly all-woman ensemble that fondly uses the acronym HAG. The brainchild of Faylee Favara, who organized the first Herstory more than five years ago for a National Organization for Women fundraiser, these performances are more variety show than fully staged production; they consist of short vignettes held together loosely by a common thread. Herstory's tenth go-around is slated to run this weekend at the Mercury Cafe.

As artistic director of the Herstory series, Favara keeps things light and easy. There are no auditions--collaborators submit a proposal, which is usually accepted sight unseen. But the women involved feel encouraged by HAG's open-door policy and tend to rise to the occasion, whether they are seasoned performers or stage novices. Everyone comes together for a single rehearsal before opening night, and the show runs over one weekend. "Everyone always says, 'What? You're kidding!'" Favara says of the one-rehearsal format. But participants usually show up well- prepared and ready to rumble. "People love the concept of being able to just express themselves. We do end up getting the good, the bad and the ugly--but it's so minimal. People seem to accept it for what it is."

"There's a huge appeal in that it's open to anybody in the community and not necessarily just to people who are professional actors," says Herstory veteran Jenny MacDonald. Past performances have included dramatic scenes, monologues, dance, song and poetry, as well as the occasional male actor. "It's not theater specifically for women," MacDonald says, "but it creates a forum in which people share feelings about history, personal history and other subjects." Besides, she continues, "here in Denver we have a huge actress population, so this is one more opportunity for people to work. It's a small-term commitment, but it's also a very personal commitment." And the free-form quality of Herstory, she adds, helps keep things from getting predictable. "It's exciting. You don't know what you're going to get."

In the case of Herstory 10, Favara says, one thing you'll get is more humor than there's been in some of the previous shows. Monologue artist Cynthia Morris's piece, for example, touches a familiar female nerve. "It's about trying to find clothes for women with actual figures instead of those tiny little things," Morris explains. In the piece, she explores her own thwarted attempts to find a personal style by shopping at thrift and vintage-clothing stores. "It's humorous--or actually so sad that it had to be funny," she says. "You can only hope people will laugh."

Favara, who also coordinates educational programs for the Rape Assistance and Awareness Program, brings a taste of that occupation into her own piece: "It's about a woman who watches a self-defense video before she goes out on a date." Favara doesn't reveal exactly what ensues, except to say that "she looks like Ripley in Alien by the end of the experience." And Juliana Aragon, another past performer who appears as a member of the Denver Indian Thespians, says her group is staging a quickie comedy about the Spanish explorer Cortez and some Indian slaves: "It's based on the fact that you are what you wear. Cortez is this real snazzy dresser and the slaves wear rags. At the end they trade places...but it's more than clothing that's transferred in the exchange." MacDonald's contribution is a story recounting a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, The Wild Swan, that touches on how apparel figures prominently as an agent of transformation.

Throw in a couple of dance numbers, Merc maven Marilyn Megenity's piece on sweatshops, some monologues about anything from corporate clothing to wearing black and a few other undivulged sequences (there are sixteen pieces in all), and you've got a truly eclectic show brimming with a theatrical joie de vivre. "It's great to see so many different women with their angle on it," Morris says. And, the women agree, the format makes the show more fun and inspiring for the audience as well. "I think of some poor little woman with nothing in her life coming to this and finding an outlet in her life. It's really an outreach," MacDonald says. And sometimes it really happens that way--someone sees one of the shows and becomes involved in the next one. "That gives me shivers," she adds.

Favara is glad to continue providing a voice for what she considers an underappreciated cultural group but acknowledges that the importance of such a mission can clash with HAG's anything-goes character. And from a personal standpoint, it's not her sole reason for being. "This town hasn't got a real women's theater group, other than us," she says. "I would love to see somebody do it--but not me."

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