PUFFY HAIR: A Fabulously Feral Feminist Fantasia… with Farts

Photo by Sammy Tunis

When Culturebot asked if I would sit down with Zoë Geltman and Julia Sirna-Frest about their latest collaboration, I jumped at the chance. Full disclosure: We’re all friends. But, I have also been a long time admirer of both their work. Julia, from when we were both students at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle to then having the pleasure of seeing her tear up New York stages from Half-Straddle collabs to Kate Benson’s [PORTO] to hearing her rock out with her Dolly Parton cover band, DOLL PARTS.  Zoë, I had always loved her work in several downtown productions but it was her truly virtuosic performance (alongside fellow powerhouses Nikki Calonge and Ugo Chukwu) in William Burke’s PIONEERS! #GOFORTH where she swung and hung from ropes and performed one of the most difficult and engaging monologues I have ever seen that made me a full-fledged fan.

Zoë and Julia have a history of collaborations and have now teamed up again for Zoë’s first foray into solo performance. PUFFY HAIR defies genre: part stand up comedy act, part performance art, part experimental theater. Just don’t call it a solo show.  

PUFFY HAIR is described as “a night of existential stand-up performed by an id. Using Vaudeville-cum-Fosse dance moves to investigate one woman’s ambivalent and tortured relationship to the male gaze, which she alternately cozies up to and execrates, it is a catharsis of self-hatred, body dysmorphia, and self-aggrandizement.  A vigorous dose of lipstick smears and shoulder pads. A marriage between Joan Rivers and gastrointestinal turbulence.” 

Our conversation covered a lot of ground from the fallacies of the body positivity  movement to the drag (in both senses of the word) of femininity to the deeply difficult relationship most of us have with our bodies. If you relate to picking bloody boogers and the torments of facial hair more than you do to beauty blogs and makeup tutorials—this is the show for you. Here are some highlights from our conversation: 

Megan Hill: You had me at Fosse, self-hatred, and shoulder pads. Never mind Joan Rivers and gastrointestinal turbulence! What was the seed for this show? 

Zoë Geltman: I wrote a play about 5 years ago about a personal assistant to this awful woman… and the girl, the personal assistant, for most of the play is absorbing all this emotional abuse and towards the end has a catharsis of rage and it manifests in her doing this big long monologue at a stand up club. And so, to know what that was like, I started doing some stand up… I just went to a bunch of open mics for a few months. 

Julia and I interrupt Zoë with a chorus of “So Braves” and “YEESHes”.

ZG: It’s really not brave. Because when you’re at that level of open mic, no one is  listening to you. No one is there to watch you. Everyone there is waiting to go on. Just looking at their notes and looking at their phones. So NOBODY is listening to you. So, you don’t really have an audience and all I wanted was an audience!… The first time I went I waited for three hours to go on… and that night, I went to the bathroom at one point and this awful guy, like douche bag comedian was like, “So.  Like… what’s your DEAL?” and I was very drunk and just looked at him and said, “What’s MY DEAL?!?!?!” and turned and went into the bathroom

MH: That seems like the only appropriate response. But seriously, this script is insane. It rides so many lines and so many chunks of the text are staggeringly complex—I’m like, how is she going to do this? 

Julia Sirna-Frest: There is something super athletic about the text… There are pages that are one sentence. It’s so much to get out and it’s so much a running train you’re trying to keep on the tracks and Zoë is deftly doing this whole dance. It’s something about all of that where it’s become this highly choreographed little piece of theater. It’s pretty. It’s TOIGHT!  

MH: In terms of that, the script has very little stage directions. How did the aesthetic and design of the show evolve? 

JS-F: There’s a vaudevillian aspect and deep hamminess. It sends up all these things  while being very vulnerable at the same time. And, we have this incredible design team.  The design has always felt like this big, bold, old-world, borscht-belt type of comedy while still keeping it modern, which then led us into this bigger, really performative costume. Enver (Chakartash) is building this unbelievable costume. So, there is this really personal stuff– where, ooh, it hurts your heart to hear– but also she’s going to have ten pounds of hair on her head.  

MH: When I was reading it, I had moments of: Is this true? Did this really happen? How much is Zoë and how much is this character? You just lay everything bare but in this exciting way where I don’t know what’s real and what’s not. It’s thrilling and also scary. Nevermind, that so much of it I was like, “Get out of my head!”  

ZG: I hope this is for people who have ever felt not okay with their bodies, hate their  bodies, have hurt their bodies. The whole thing is breaking open my brain and looking at the obsessive thought loops in there. I’m looking at my own and maybe that can be extrapolated to the larger obsessive thought patterns and dynamics.  

JS-F: And also the sticky place in being in a female presenting body in this moment in this world. And how to navigate being in the world… I think we’re in this really,  “Ah! Everything is so progressive! I’m gonna be fucking fine!”  And it’s like, well, no. I mean, Yes! Let’s all strive for that. But that’s not actually a day-to-day lived experience for ANY body but particularly a female presenting body. I think Zoë is navigating that thread too… just acknowledging the messiness of it all. 

ZG: It feels very powerful to do… A lot of it feels like I’m saying the things you are not allowed to say… The feeling of a young woman having no power and then taking a moment to take that power back. The whole thing is me being: THIS IS MY STAGE! 

PUFFY HAIR is written and performed by Zoë Geltman, directed by Julia Sirna-Frest  with costume and set design by Enver Chakartash, lighting design by Sarah Lurie,  and stage management by Lenyn Hernandez. It premieres at The Tank this November 4th-20th. Tickets & show information here.

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