By Lisa Renfrey
Penny Arcade's Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore! was welcomed back in Sydney on February 4 by a packed and enthusiastic audience.
Written during the 1990 US arts censorship crisis to "stick it up the National Endowment for the Arts and right-wing Senator Jesse Helms", the show uses comic monologues, characterisations, music, video, audience participation and a team of great mood-setting erotic dancers to take up questions of sex, censorship and political correctness in today's backlash social climate.
Pointing out that a society which says no to erotica and yes to racism, sexism and violence is sick indeed, Penny Arcade weaves together a picture of contemporary capitalist society, which relies more and more on censorship and repression to hold it together.
Along the way, she uses high drama, a sharp wit and buckets of irreverence to take a swipe at just about every symbol of success in the status quo — from US presidents to bank presidents, Madonna to Elvis, and cable TV to Australian nationalism.
No-one is exempt from Arcade's sweeping demolition of political correctness. Lesbians, "those women who tell us bisexuals that we just aren't trying hard enough to be lesbian, but who are attracted to other women who look just like young gay men ... have you noticed?", and trendy apolitical gay men "who just want to go into the bushes and fuck" while homophobic persecution and AIDS devastate the gay community, all come under fire.
Arcade's message, resumed from the strong sexual politics movements of the 1960s and '70s, is a good one — the personal is political, but the political is not just personal. Winning our liberation means building movements, engaging in open debate, respecting the views of other oppressed peoples, but most importantly, uniting in struggle against a common enemy. In this sense, Arcade's show is a powerful and refreshing reply to the fragmenting, isolating and disorganising effects of postmodernist ideas which tend to hold sway today.
While being full of sad stories, deep anger and black humour, Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore! is overwhelmingly an uplifting and optimistic performance. It is also lots of fun. In Arcade's own words at the end of the show, "If you know someone you think will enjoy the show, tell them about it. If you know someone that will probably disapprove of it, buy them a ticket."
Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore! is at the Belvoir Street Theatre until February 18.