Friendly Neighborhood Lesbian Superhero

There are no men in the world of Butch McCloud – only butch and femme dykes, living in the city of Missopolis. There, Butch and her band of bakers – who run a collectively-owned non-profit vegan bake shop – face off against the evil corporate femmes of Vulvatronics™. The rivalry has been chronicled in seven episodes so far, with titles such as “Attack of the Scones” and “The Case of the Sapphic Sapphire.” The latest Butch McCloud episode, “Dykes are from Mars, Dykes are from Venus” opens April 8 at Clemente Soto Velez Center.

This campy live-action musical comic book started last year at the Women of Wonder Theater Café, and soon developed enough of a following to move to larger venues.

“We used to think [our target audience] was just lesbians,” says Tom Leger 1, the show’s producer and co-writer, “but it’s been seen by kids as young as five or six, by college professors, by straight people… They all seem to like it. And there’s no sex2 or violence3 – it’s a family show.”

“A lesbian family, at least,” adds co-writer Riley Macleod.
The show draws on and parodies the conventions of superhero comics (“Butch has the ethics of a superhero, but she can’t fly or shoot rays,” says Macleod), pulp detective novels, and Broadway musicals. The mention of an ex-girlfriend from Denmark prompts the intricately choreographed number “There is Nothing Like a Dane,” and instead of Rent’s “Seasons of Love,” these lesbians measure their lives in “Seasons of Drama.”

The show’s tagline is “Your Friendly Neighborhood Lesbian Superhero,” but unlike the complicated backstories involved of comic books like “X-Men,” new audiences don’t need to know any of the previous events to make sense of the show.

“It’s like a TV sitcom, where everything resets at the end of each episode,” says Macleod.

Because they aren’t locked into a continuing storyline, the playwrights are free to explore their current interests with each installment of the show. They only plan far enough ahead, they say, to reveal the name of the next episode4.

“It’s really current,” says Leger of their writing process. “We try to respond to current events.”

“Dykes are From Venus” plays off the Pathfinder water-seeking expedition to Mars, with the Snatchfinder 3000 getting lost on the frigid plains of Venus5. But really, the story is just a framework on which to hang jokes about lesbian performance art, puppets, and professional skateboarders, along with some musical numbers and sock puppets.

It’s kind of surprising that more downtown shows don’t branch into multiple episodes like Butch McCloud. After all, once you’ve invested the time in creating a bunch of characters, why throw them away after one production? The recurring character phenomenon has kept Saturday Night Live running for years, but very few live theater shows have tried it. I know that the pirate-puppet musical JollyShip the Whizbang has had multiple episodes – and that’s about it. What else is out there? Theater’s quality of live performance would seem to work against continuing narratives, since audiences would have to catch every episode, but Butch McCloud’s blend of sketch comedy characters and ever-changing stories could be a model for playwrights who want their characters to grow over time, but still keep their shows short and sweet.

Butch McCloud
Clemente Soto Velez Center
107 Suffolk St.
April 8-11
Time varies, check for details.
$10/$8 students

1. A man writing about lesbians? Isn’t that horribly exploitive? No, it’s not. Tom is transgender, as is his writing partner.
2. Though there is a lot of innuendo…
3. …and some slapstick violence.
4. Episode 9: “The Death of Butch McCloud – or is it?”
5. Science is not the show’s strong point.

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