Grab ‘em by the pussy sludge

Saturday’s Stückemarkt opening piece Pussy Sludge by American playwright Gracie Gardner is a potential set text for new wave feminism, our author argues.

Pussy Sludge is unstageable in the USA. That’s what Stückemarkt jury member Branden Jacobs-Jenkins tells me as we enter the Festspiele’s side stage for a dramatic reading of Gracie Gardner’s provocative text. Because of the theatrical complications of having someone leak crude oil out of their vagina into a bottomless pool on stage? No, he answers, because of the word pussy. Nowhere would be allowed to advertise the title. This is the bizarre patriarchal dystopia – also known as reality – into which Pussy Sludge gushes forth: a society where presidents can grab women by the pussies but playwrights are apparently barred from naming performances after them.

Sometimes the best way to highlight the absurdity of the status quo is to outweird it and Pussy Sludge does this with delightful charm and side-splitting humour. Pussy Sludge is the eponymous heroine of the show, self-exiled in a national park where she snarls and barks at passing men as she spews gallon after gallon of oil out of her vagina into a swamp. Despite her self-imposed exclusion from the world, her body is routinely objectified or commodified by passers-by. Park rangers complain about her frequent furious masturbation, an environmentalist girl scout, who we’re told isn’t a cookie whore by the way, warns of the ecological impact of her excretions, before later erecting a sign to direct hikers with a “purely geological interest” to the swamp, and a would-be suitor, the canned goods factory manager RJ, suggests she sell every last drop of the liquid gold for profit. Do you sell your sperm, she asks? That’s different, he retorts. Eventually, the park rangers police her oil-menstruating vagina, ostensibly for her own safety as a creature of her own making lurks beneath the slimy surface of the swamp.

Sticking the finger up to patriarchy

As a text, Pussy Sludge is a surreal and comic parable of sexual self-determination that challenges conservative gender constructs and our patriarchal status quo with vigour and irony. It certainly has the potential to establish itself as a set text of new wave feminism. This dramatic reading, on the other hand, does an already powerful text justice by transposing its wonderful quirkiness and radical critique to stage with gusto, providing a strong blueprint for a theatre production to come. The cast perfectly emulates the text’s sardonic tone, with the Münchener Kammerspiele’s Julia Riedler playing a pitiful yet empowering Pussy Sludge and Max Krause a deadpan, manspreading RJ. Meanwhile, succulent fruits are caressed, massaged and fingered by the ensemble as juices spill and squirt over a chopping board projected onto a large screen in a running visual metaphor for the slurry seeping out into the swamp, rounded off by a soundscape of squelches and slurps.

At the play’s close, the question facing Pussy Sludge is whether to drain the proverbial and literal swamp of her female sexuality and leave the national park. The girl scout, now the Lady of the Sludge Lake, hands her a sword (in the reading, a razor) to slay her sludge but she is unable to do so. Precisely at the moment where she is able to embrace the sludge, it retreats, leaving her broken-legged and vomitting, yet with a sense of longing. If one were to extract a concrete meaning from this ambiguous and absurd play, it would surely be this: simply do not give a fuck. As Courtney, Pussy Sludge’s friend and love interest, remarks: “You have sludge coming out of you. You’re gonna be nauseating to someone no matter what you do.” What better way to stick a finger up to patriarchy!

Pussy Sludge
Written by Gracie Gardner Staged Reading: Elsa-Sophie Jach
Dramaturgy: Theresa Schlesinger
Scenography: Anne-Laure Jullian de la Fuente
Music: Nadine Finsterbusch
With Hilke Altefrohne, Maryam Abu Khaled, Max Krause, Julia Riedler, Elena Schmidt
Length: 1 hour

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Nicholas Potter

Nicholas Potter

Theaterredakteur beim englischsprachigen Stadtmagazin EXBERLINER. Er arbeitet zudem als freier Autor und Übersetzer. Seine Texte sind u.a. in der taz und im Freitag erschienen. Nicholas Potter kommt ursprünglich aus Großbritannien und nennt seit sieben Jahren Neukölln sein Zuhause.

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