I am sitting with Marga Gomez in a Le Pain Quotidien on the Upper West Side. She needs a double espresso because she is couch-hopping and did not have a good night’s sleep. She is couch-hopping in the city where she grew up and where she is presenting her new monologue, Pound, at Dixon Place on the Lower East Side, July 24-25, as part of the venue’s annual queer-theatre extravaganza, HOT! Festival. (Pound will also have a five-week run beginning Oct. 15 at Brava Theater Center in San Francisco.)
I saw the 90-minute show a few nights before. This drive-by tour of lesbian-themed films, fueled by “all the disappointment I have felt over the years in lesbian stereotypes,” combines exuberant standup with a new level of intimacy and risk. It’s also about sex—about the way desire snakes up, about the plight of “unplanned celibacy,” about misplaced directions for attaching a strap-on, about an off-road blowjob.
LAURIE STONE: Your performance style is freewheeling, but the script is tight and detailed. Can you talk about its development?
MARGA GOMEZ: About a year ago, I was in New York performing Love Birds, and I went for drinks with Ellie Covan (founder and director of Dixon Place). She asked what I was working on, and I said I was acting out scenes from lesbian movies and commenting on them in my club act: Like, I was fine with Sharon Stone being a lesbian icepick murderer in Basic Instinct because I wanted people to be afraid of lesbians. They wouldn’t fuck with us. Ellie said, “Why don’t you develop it, and we’ll commission it for HOT! Fest?” My negative tape goes, That’s not going to happen. But then last November I started getting emails asking me to describe the show, and I thought, Shit, she is serious. I booked some storytelling nights.
How did the idea for the live screenplay format come about?
I had the idea and I started talking about it with my friend Jackie Marchand, who is a screenwriter. I wanted the screenwriter to be Dashiell Hammett, and I made Shirley Maclaine the typist, because she was partly on earth and partly not. Jackie and I were complaining about how there isn’t enough room for us. The whole lesbian bar scene is gone. It used to be a night wasn’t over until a woman threw a glass at the head of her girlfriend—then you could leave. We felt there wasn’t enough wryness or comedy or power in lesbian characters. I said, “I hate that little girl in The Children’s Hour; let’s run her over with a car.” I began to think about gathering the lesbian characters from all the movies I had watched that had gotten things wrong but had also formed me in a sense—The Killing of Sister George, The Fox, Notes on a Scandal. I thought of putting them into a fantasy realm where they could interact with each other and with me. I have since learned this is called “fan fiction.” To me the idea was more like when I was a kid and I would imagine all the mannequins coming alive and hanging out after the store closed.
You’re very skillful in weaving the story of your sexuality with the sexuality of the characters who influenced the way you understood being a lesbian.
Yeah, I know—so meta. Jackie and my director David Schweizer, with whom I’ve done my last four shows, helped shape that.
I like the way you use yourself as a lab rat in your shows, putting yourself through mazes and shocks, and also allowing us to see the vulnerable feelings of the rat. There’s a scene in the show with the Marga character in stirrups, and the gynecologist is saying her vulva is flat from disuse. How does it feel to be out there like that onstage?
I am a timid person by nature. I have a lot of psychic damage. (Smiles.) The person onstage is not me. I really wanted to be vulgar in this piece, to go all out. I have been disappointed in comedy clubs. Guys can say anything they want about their bodies. If I talk about my body the way the men do, that’s not okay with the audience. I was at a comedy show where there was this cool lesbian couple in the audience, really stylish, and one of them had to leave. She was crying sitting there listening to all the jokes about Subarus and mullet haircuts. I thought: I am going to get back at them. I want a man to look at this show and realize that their junk is no more appealing than women’s junk. I want them to look at junk.
Hence the bathroom sex scene.
(Laughs.) I always wanted to have bathroom sex. In reality, I’m such a germophobe, my anxiety overwhelms my lust. The bathroom scene lets me put pussy in your face, literally. That’s why I have that sound effect of the fist and the head going into the vagina. The sound effect is pretty gnarly, the mud bubble in a sink hole. (Laughs.) Sometimes the pussy does make that noise. I wanted to make the noise as loud and unacceptable as possible, to take it to the threshold. I want to see women be aggressive and not get punished for it. I suppose if I wanted to go further, I could have the sprinkler system go off on the audience.
You use sound to hilarious effect.
I love working with sound. A million thoughts happen in a second onstage.
My favorite bit is when Marga tries to kiss Sandy Dennis as Jill Banford, and her teeth clink against Sandy’s enormous choppers and she goes careening off.
Teeth are weird. Has that every happened to you?
Definitely. I cackled.
I heard you.
What about showing yourself as a womanizer—did that feel risky?
Yes and no. It’s a big part of my sexuality, and I regret my callousness. A lot of sex for me was about conquest, and then I didn’t want the person anymore. I should have been locked up. Then I would have had more sex. (Silent rimshot.) Actually, I prefer to get my heart broken. I was looking for the woman to break my heart. This gorgeous woman on Craigslist said she wouldn’t go out with me because she had heard stories. Part of me was like, Oh shit, I have a bad reputation, and the other part was like, Wow, people are talking about me—how flattering.
What’s the deal with the blowjob?
I had this dream for like 30 years about giving a blow job, and I met this really kind dude who was into me, and I was getting over a breakup, and I thought, I’ll just see what it’s all about. It took a long time for him to come. I thought it would be quicker.
Have the dreams stopped?
When did this happen?
Four years ago. Do you think I should tell the audience it was that recent?
Definitely. Your show is saying: We are all unpredictable in sex.
I did it twice, to be honest. I didn’t want to mention it because I’m supposed to be celibate in the show. Does a blowjob count?
Who are you, Bill Clinton?
I’m going to stay celibate for the run of the show. It fuels me, and now everyone is flirting with me! Well, okay—three women. They all want to be the one to get me not to be celibate. It’s really working for me.