Mother/Daughter Drama with a Vibrating Spin: France-Luce Benson’s ‘The Talk’
This play commentary is in response to Crossroads Theatre Company’s production of The Talk, which had its last show on May 19.
I cannot say that I’ve used the word, dildo, more than five times in my life. I don’t think I’ve ever written or typed it, until now. Thankfully for my libido, I have seen a good number of Real Sex episodes and too many porno clips to remember (apparently short clips, like those found on the Internet, reduce memory function). So now that we are accepting gay scouts, getting comfortable with others in yet another public space, maybe it’s time to get just a bit more comfortable talking about dildos, starting with our mothers and private space. Let’s face it, we sign petitions on change.org about a stranger’s right to be a furry, and yet we hide our costumes whenever our disapproving families are over. Fuck ‘em, they could learn from us. Or maybe that’s just what I learned from France-Luce Benson’s one-act play, The Talk.
The silent action that is the first ten minutes of The Talk, is uncanny at first, but the mute setup reveals its figurative force about halfway through the one-act play about a mother and daughter’s struggle to have a tough conversation. In fact, the parental tough conversation cliché is nicely upended by a contemporary sense of awkward, over sharing—TMI. In this way, Benson does an admirable job of turning her celebrated ten-minute play into a good hour of compelling dialogue and honest storytelling.
The story of Manu, and her daughter, Claire is relatively familiar, even if a bit complicated for the space of one act. The very traditional, Creole mother is critical of her daughter’s American values, but mainly as a defense mechanism that helps her survive the isolation of her traditional life. Upon her husband’s death, and Claire’s return to home, Manu—brought to life as an effervescent, unstoppable woman by Chantal Jean-Pierre—seizes an opportunity for Claire’s help.
Claire—played as a sarcastic and sweet tomboy by Shashone Lambert—wants her mom to see her, and to respect her choices, which have admittedly been an adventure. We learn through playful, verbal jabs by Claire’s mother, that Claire has travelled alone to India, and teaches yoga after going to school for “seven whole years.” In these point and counterpoint moments of dialogue, Claire puffs up with resentment, and forcefully calms down several times, insisting that she has a master’s degree, a master’s degree in Eastern Philosophy! To this end, the play suggests a philosophical reading: that Manu, the older woman, found herself a mother because her environment dictated it and she did not question it, and Claire, the younger woman, created herself into more than a daughter, because she did question and seek answers.
Suggested readings and characterizations aside, the play’s plot involves an integral object of desire that links both women. Because they are so different, something outside of them has to bring them to talk. In the play, it’s about 3 am when Manu and Claire finally air their grievances, and when the audience knows for sure that a dildo is the reason for the play’s mature rating. (There is a hint of the box’s contents because Manu reveals that she saw the mystery object in Claire’s drawer next to a pair of thongs.) Even in today’s world, a dildo, or rather discussing them, is taboo. In the play, Manu refers to the dildo as a bagay. According to Benson, bagay is “a creole term which can be loosely translated to mean stuff, thing, or ‘thingy.’” It’s funny to note that the collateral for the play uses “%#*” instead of dildo.
Though on stage, Jean-Pierre’s portrayal of Manu is intoxicating and seemingly beyond the scope of her character, the character of Claire is quite well written. She is an estranged daughter who likely had parents who hid as much about themselves as they revealed. She is a 21st century woman’s woman—a bisexual, intellectual with spiritual principles, without churchy pretense. In the play, she says that she has been finding herself, and in the on-stage action, she finds her voice. At one point, she stands on her twin, childhood bed, saying “I need a platform,” and proceeds to complete her mouth off to her mom. This reduction of a life by a woman whose life has been small and predictable is why I think France-Luce Benson is a stellar writer.
Some good writing happens around the situations of the bagay. For one, Claire has had lovers of both sexes, and Claire’s mother has had only one, her husband, yet both women want the self-pleasure principle. In fact, Claire’s mother exhibits nympho behavior. Sure she wants a heart-to-heart with her daughter, but she wants to know how to operate the bagay as much if not more. Benson’s writing of the scene suggests that Manu understands her daughter about as much as she understands a dildo. So Claire is stuck in that thing where you go home and suddenly you’re your younger self who needs approval. Yes, that infantile, stranger who cries and mumbles syllables, not even words, syllables. The beauty of this play is that when you get home this time, your mother is a teenager, your best friend.
As I mentioned to begin this commentary, the silence that begins the play can be challenging, sitting with oneself is not entertaining, but really the wall between the women speaks volumes—it is the figurative force of silence that effectively grounds the audience in the fucked up experience of being back home, if your home was a Stay-in-Jail-Until-You’re-18 card.
Playwright, France-Luce Benson is profiled at Ensemble Studio Theatre.