By Allyce Morrissey
Before you’re allowed to enter “The Rude Awakening,” you have to complete a short “homework assignment”: write down a question about sex, love, or dating, and put it in “The Womb of Truth,” (a red fanny pack topped with a sparkly‑gold pendant in the shape of the female reproductive system). A friendly usher then recommends you sit in the first two rows for “the best experience.” If you’re squeamish about audience participation, you’re probably sweating by now.
It’s true that in this part cabaret, part lecture, part therapy session, Amber Topaz first aims to shock. Yellow striped caution tape holds her bra in place. In her friendly Yorkshire accent, she demonstrates how to use knickers as a hair tie, “just make sure you sniff them first.” She asks an audience member to play the bongos on her “bum.” She reads reproductive facts and “clit‑erature” from a folder adorned with a hand‑painted vulva.
But between these confident forays into the taboo, Ms. Topaz makes herself vulnerable in the most honest sense of the word. She sings comedic songs about masturbation and PMT (the British name for PMS), contorting her body and face along to her clever lyrics, but her gentle, often folk‑sounding voice adds an undertone of sincerity amidst the humor.
Ms. Topaz’s very personal stories about first kisses, early‑twenties partying, and back‑pain‑relieving masturbation sometimes ramble, lacking a sense of polish and clear intention. But even that feels honest and adds to the sense that her performance is a unique, one‑time shared experience.
Ms. Topaz tackles a variety of topics in “The Rude Awakening”’s 65 minutes: puberty, masturbation, the mysteries of the vulva, social media, these uncertain political times, anxiety, shame, and, of course, sex. But most importantly, in the end, she reaches toward that all‑important topic of human connection. One of her many sexual factoids is about oxytocin, sometimes known as the “cuddle hormone,” a neurotransmitter whose levels increase after skin‑to‑skin human contact, and which stimulates bonding and trust. We all want to feel loved, she suggests, and in this increasingly isolating world, that seems harder and harder to find. Ms. Topaz ends the show with a song that repeats “love is love is love is love,” and gives every audience member a hug as she sings ‑ plus one for the road on the way out.
It’s no surprise that Ms. Topaz was invited to return as a “best of” production for United Solo’s tenth anniversary season, after winning last year’s award for Best Cabaret. Even if you come in sweating, you’ll probably leave smiling from her sincere and funny performance. The extra boost of oxytocin doesn’t hurt, either.
“The Rude Awakening”
Written and Performed by Amber Topaz
September 29 at 7:30 PM
Photo credit: Veronika Marx
2019 United Solo Theater Festival
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
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ALLYCE MORRISSEY is a dramaturg based in New York City. She holds an MA in Dramaturgy and Writing for Performance from Goldsmiths, University of London, and a BA in English from Villanova University. She also works in entertainment advertising.