“What are you, a feminazi?” Florida comedian Suzanne Willet’s answer, in the form of a solo-performance piece, is a resounding yes. Dressed in black, wielding a riding crop, and speaking in a cartoonish German accent, the title character of The Feminazi is a personification of the misogynist term. It’s a neat tactic of reclamation, if not always a successfully comedic one.
At the Players Theater in the Village through May fourth, The Feminazi flanks its title character with three women, all portrayed by Willet: Fran (“the older woman”), Sarah ("the middle class white female”), and the Virgin Mary(“a Jewish mother”). Each of the characters struggles with a unique feminist issue: maintaining cultural visibility (Fran), balancing family and career (Sarah), questioning how to best raise a child (Virgin Mary). In keeping with the conventions of solo performance, each character lives in a different area of the stage, with shifts in lighting, designed by Janna Mattioli, separating the scenes.
Of the four characters, only the Virgin Mary addresses the audience in direct-confessional style, alternating between motherly boastfulness over her son’s successes and anxious concern over his struggles. Willet imbues the Virgin’s scenes with large doses of sweetly amusing anachronism that grow tiresome over the duration of the performance.
In contrast to the Virgin Mary’s direct address, Sarah and Fran’s scenes are consciously performative musical acts. Sarah’s scenes take place at a series of singer-songwriter open mic nights that span her college days through her arrival at middle age; Fran’ scenes are set at a rally in Florida, where she endeavors to bring visibility to the plight of older women in America through motivational speeches and rap music. Filled with impassioned rage, Fran serves as an interesting counterpoint to Sarah, whose tentative complaints (“I'm a middle class white female/ I smile when I hear crap”) form the heart of her music.
With both women, Willet has given herself a challenge: characters who love to sing their hearts out, despite the fact that the size of their hearts is considerably greater than breadth of their musical abilities. It’s clear that Willet loves these characters, and even at their goofiest – or especially then – treats them with the utmost respect. She belts out Fran’s fiery bad rhymes (“that Coldwater Creek/ Prints that make you freak/ And hey, LL Bean/ Drop the aquamarine”) with abandon. At best, the absurdity of their music, and the painstaking intensity with which they perform it, is itself entertaining. One imagines these are women with YouTube followings.
Of course, YouTube clips last only a few minutes. Even with Sarah’s maturing into motherhood and Fran’s struggles to persevere in the face of adversity, their stories, as told through their music, rarely feel worthy of full-length performance. Nor, unfortunately, does the Feminazi herself, as she goes about her mission instructing the audience in the disenfranchised state of women and purports to suss out and condemn “sexist pigs.”
Along the way, the Feminazi treats audiences to a humorously angry deconstruction of Snow White (“Even if you are small, if you are a white male, you will still be the power structure of the story!”) and a tamely phallic consumption of a banana: techniques as tired, oversimplified and silly as the notion of a feminazi itself.
At just eighty minutes, the production feels long: each of the characters would benefit from more concise scenes. Still, moments of the production are bound to delight. All of the women Willet portrays possess an endearing earnestness and a goofy form of self-expression that make them hard not to like.
Audiences will be particularly engaged in the Feminazi’s scenes, which utilize a lot of audience interaction. Yet ultimately her audience affects her more deeply than she affects it: by the end of the performance, the Feminazi is openly flirting with a male audience member. That abrupt shift feels artificial and unneeded. Instead, it would be a welcome change if Willet allowed the Feminazi to contemplate the space that exists between the wild extremes of man-hating fury and school-girlish crushes: to stop talking about feminazis and start talking about feminism.