Originally from San Francisco, Haley Slamon is a recent transplant to the Chicago area. When she is not auditioning for shows, Haley enjoys seeing theater that showcases diverse and underrepresented groups that she identifies with (namely queer, plus sized women), knitting, playing piano or guitar, and binge-watching Netflix. She is proud to be helping PerformInk nurture the wonderful companies that are attempting to improve the art-form and their communities by creating engaging, diverse, and meaningful performances.
Pictured: Jamie Shriner. Photo courtesy of Prop Thtr.
The battle with sexuality is something that nearly every woman experiences in her life. Whether it is the expectation that a girl is supposed to stay “pure” until marriage, the perception that women aren’t supposed to like sex or orgasm, or the trauma that is dealing with sexual assault, women’s sexual norms are foisted upon them, and policed on an absurdly regular basis. If we’re honest with ourselves, not many women win this battle, at least not all the time. We compromise. We smile when strange men tell us to because we are afraid of what they might do if we don’t. We sleep with men we shouldn’t because we are taught that sex is as much about validation as it is about pleasure. When someone is flirting with us who we aren’t interested in, we are just as likely to apologize as we are to reject them, because part of us has been trained to feel like their interest in us is our fault.
In her new one-woman show WIFE MATERIAL, performing for just two weekends at Prop Thtr, Jamie Shriner examines her own sexual battle and coming of age in a musical revue that is raw, relatable, and unapologetically female. Shriner celebrates her sexual victories and commiserates her failures, reflecting on her past experiences and actions now that she is a newly married woman. The show hits a spectrum of topics that women will have no trouble relating to: slutshaming in conservative Indiana, ghosting drunk hookups, the glut of men that seem to only want you when you’re unavailable, the lack of sex in long distance relationships, the stigmas of being bisexual, and the pain of blaming yourself for others’ harassment. While it is not a perfect performance, Shriner’s writing and awkwardly confident delivery propel the show through its hour-long run time, and the uniquely feminine viewpoint makes the show compelling and original. If you can find a seat in the intimate 50 person theater, then WIFE MATERIAL is worth experiencing.
The show begins performed in one with the front curtain drawn. Shriner sings a number about being Mrs. Biddle, a happily married new woman that still has a lot of problems even though she looks like the perfect bride. After unsuccessfully attempting to introduce her husband, who hasn’t shown up, things get a little different. The curtain is both literally and metaphorically drawn back on Shriner’s story, as she trades her rip-away 50’s housewife dress for a black negligee, and her small slot of stage apron for a full stage where she can strut, joke, and dance. Shriner explains her promiscuous sexual background through a series of stand-up like segments and stand-alone musical numbers that ooze her charming sass and bitingly witty writing. A small projector screen in the back is sparsely used to display images that add glimmers of visual humor and sentimentality to an already solid script.
The musical numbers are the standout part of this performance. The standing mic Shriner was using was slightly too hot for the first half of the opening show, making Shriner’s belt slightly shill; a stark contrast to her unamplified a capella number reflecting on sexual assault, in which her voice is stunning. However, after an adjustment from either the sound booth or the actress, the problem was rectified, and what remained of the performance was highly enjoyable. Her songs that deal with complicated emotions and content are well balanced by numbers like “Fuckboy” and “Love Myself” that allow Shriner to unleash her humor, leaving the audience critically thinking about the problems she is addressing, but still entertained.
Overall, WIFE MATERIAL is not a perfect show, but is a show and a type of theatre that we desperately need more of. With recent events in the Chicago theatre scene and across the nation, there is a rising need for female artists who can tell stories from a female perspective. Addressing female sexuality in the way this show does is freeing for both the performers and the audience, and serves as a mirror of past actions and a call to action in the future. We should help to cultivate and support writers and performers who are telling these types of stories, and seeing WIFE MATERIAL is a great step towards this.
WIFE MATERIAL runs through December 10th. For more information visit propthtr.org.