Amy De Bhrún – Female of the Species
Amy De Bhrún – Female of the Species
It’s Wednesday night, seven pm, and I’m inside Mayfield Eatery, sipping wine and looking forward to an evening of dinner theatre. The play is Female of the Species, a one-woman show masterminded by writer and actress Amy De Bhrún. Mayfield looks like a former warehouse redecorated by a classy French grandma, and I mean this in the best way possible—two of my very favourite things, chandeliers and velvet, are here in abundance, and the wallpaper is spectacular. I’m still waiting for my friend to arrive, so I get up and wander about.
Words: Sydney Weinberg
Mayfield is also an independent design shop, with everything from that gorgeous wallpaper to locally made jewellery for sale next door. As I browse, I catch sight of a rack of greeting cards, and skim the covers. One shows a pretty woman dressed in a short, sparkly dress poised at a kitchen window, gleefully tossing plates out onto the lawn. In another, one woman is saying, “I was counting on him leaving me for a younger woman,” while another replies, “Be patient, for goodness sake.” Would this uncomfortably repressive humour—repressive because it expresses a desire to rebel against patriarchal standards while still kowtowing to them—set the tone for the play I was about to watch?
My friend arrives and we snack on our starter of bread with dips. Our meal—warm goat’s cheese salads—promptly arrives and it’s delicious. We drink our wine, stuff ourselves with salad and have the chats. The room around us is full but without a crowded feel; most of the guests are women, and everyone seems to be enjoying themselves. Shortly after nine, Amy materialises and the show takes off.
“The female of the species,” she announces regally, “is more deadly than the male. Fact or fiction? Truth or non-truth? A species recognised by all, but understood by few.” Decked out in gold jewellery and a snakeskin skirt, Amy’s manner is incongruously that of a television presenter; what we’re about to watch, she tells us, in a nature program which will exhibit for our edification nine different types of females. No one’s laughing yet, but we’re game. Amy has presence, she’s engaging and watchable. Via a spiraling turn toward the wall behind her, she transforms into the first type: Careerus Femalius A.
Careerus Femalius A does not want children, detests them, and relates an anecdote in which her boyfriend’s niece pees on the floor in her presence. The audience laughs nervously. Soon Amy’s back in presenter mode, and in the next moment she’s transformed into a Careerus Femalius B, a woman who has kids but regrets it. People start laughing more, in recognition and discomfort.
The third type is pathetic, a doormat. By now Amy’s in full swing and the diners have relaxed back into their seats. What the next type will be and how we, the audience, will relate to her, becomes a source of suspense and amusement. A remarkable comic actress, Amy exuberantly inhabits each character to the full and hilarious extent of the stereotype, punctuating each character with distinct and spot-on accents from all over Ireland that subtly enhance the joke. When, for instance, Bridezilla pronounces Paris “Poris”, a wild, cackling snort erupts from the far side of the room.
Alternating between Irish womanhood in its various guises and stages is Amy’s curating TV presenter, who condescendingly passes judgement in a meticulous RP accent. This is a distinctly British programme, a set-up which enables Amy to invoke (and subtly mock) the colonial paradigm that enables the represser to pass moral and cultural commentary upon the repressed. It’s a clever and inspired trick, though I wait in vain for any of the ‘females’ to subvert their stereotypes, to show through humour that the presenter and all she represents still does not quite have the measure of them. And yet, this doesn’t really happen: the jilted lover is genuinely a psycho, the bitch is unredemptively self-absorbed, the bridezilla is every bridezilla you’ve ever known if you’ve ever known a bridezilla (side note: I got the distinct impression that all the types were between twenty-five and thirty-five and hailed from a class that never has to worry about money).
Nevertheless, there were definitely moments that won me over in spite of my reservations—among them the depiction of the final type, the PMS Monster. Amy’s nostrils flared, her eyes flashed; she accused a man in the audience of breathing too loudly. Seconds later she’s apologising, then she begins to fear dying alone, and finally ends envisioning herself on a life support machine, breathing just like the man whose own breathing has once again driven her irate. There’s a virtuosic neatness to the sketch; by this point, the audience is nearly crying with laughter. The PMS Monster, the presenter tells us, is the last type of female, the one everyone in the room could relate to in some way. Then, somehow, the PMS monster is flipped on her head as the presenter declares us all, universally, goddesses. The regal gold jewellery suddenly makes sense.
After the play, my friend and I start talking to the couple next to us.
“I loved it,” says the boyfriend. “It’s proof you’re all as crazy as I thought.”
“I loved it too, it’s my second time seeing it,” agrees the girlfriend, though she adds, “And we’re not crazy, we’re far more rational than men, we just understand our emotions better.” Whereupon the boyfriend backtracks frantically, not so much because he can see why she reproached him, but because he fears upsetting her. This left me with a curious feeling. I’d had a lovely time, I’d laughed a lot, and would generally recommend the evening. And yet, I found myself wishing Amy had stretched her considerable creativity to more subversive lengths, one that might’ve prevented a man from walking away with the takeaway message “Bitches be cray.” Instead of nine beautifully acted stereotypes, what about nine imploded stereotypes, each taken to such comic extreme that they become absurdist, inherent critiques of an outmoded typology women still feel inclined to identify within because we lack visible alternatives?
What the play structurally suggests (that it will poke fun at dominant narratives of female behaviour patterns, as determined by a repressive society) is undermined by a retrograde final message: we’re all goddesses, a flawed implication because goddesses are flawless. Obviously, women are human: so why claim to be an object of worship when that claim is in itself a denial of equality and the progressive rights that go with it? It’s a shame that Amy De Bhrún doesn’t see this, because beautiful though she is, it’s her writing and acting skills which make her stand out.
In the play, “Feminist” was the fifth type, and yet there was no ‘female’ in the play that a good dose of feminism couldn’t have transformed into a powerful, respectful and self-respecting human being.
In other words, I was left wondering: how funny is it, really, when the source of a woman’s humour lies in ridiculing other women—and furthermore, why isn’t it the feminist who’s all of us?
The Female of the Species runs until March 25th at Mayfield Eatery, after which it moves to every Thursday in April at the Lo-cal Kitchen, Castleknock. Amy De Brúhn returns to Mayfield on April 29th with a new play, Life: A One-Woman Show.