“Whore”: A Daughter Speaks Back to Her Misogynist Father

Lead Article, Reviews

By Cynthia Darling
 
“Don’t be bad, be good!” drawls a disembodied voice laced with mock sexiness at the start of Suzanne Tufan’s autobiographical one‑woman show, “Whore.” And with that, the audience is summarily told to silence their mobile phones. So begins our introduction to the uncompromising worldview of Ms. Tufan’s father, which dominated her early life.
 
Wall‑sized projected video of a scenic view from a car window creates a narrative defined by movement, Ms. Tufan’s family precariously moved from state to state, cobbling together living situations. All the while, her misogynist father inculcated the wide‑eyed Suzanne into his belief system.
 
Suzanne’s childish understanding of womanhood is illustrated by humorous scenes in which she stuffed her dress to give herself breasts. But more painful moments arose when she began to hate her body. She shares that she was plagued by dreams of men peeing on her. Getting her period felt shameful, and she subsequently quit dancing, which had been her passion. The show chronicles her attempts to escape her father’s oppression, all the while being irrevocably drawn back to the sphere of his influence. She struggled to find relationships with men that didn’t replicate her toxic father/daughter dynamic.
 
The show is populated by characters including family members, teenage friends, and men who threaten her safety. Her father appears, quite effectively, without warning; the only indication of his presence is a sudden deepening of Ms. Tufan’s voice uttering his short, clipped commands. Two intriguing characters emerge as opposite sides of Ms. Tufan’s psyche: The Perfect Daughter and The Dancer. This recurring duo possesses great energy and dynamism. The audience sees the perfect self she presented to her father, while her true dancer self was bowled over with pain and moments of all‑out collapse.
 
Ms. Tufan expresses the full range of her singing, dancing, and acting talents, and the effect is stunning. Her rich singing voice lulls the audience into a mesmerizing narrative.
 
Quirky moments of humor abound in this play, humanizing Ms. Tufan as well as the more ominous presences in her life. When she launches into a lecture about her father’s views on astrology with the aid of an actual wooden astrological wheel, we understand the intensity of her father’s beliefs. Still, she is able to crack a few jokes about it. His other obsessions included UFOs and aliens. At one point, Ms. Tufan’s father went into the business of making astrological recordings on cassette tapes. She delightfully recollects being tasked with recording an Enya song at the end of the tapes, which she did happily. Enya blasts from the speakers and Ms. Tufan dances, a light and absurd moment in the midst of this story of a contentious relationship.
 
At unexpected moments, the character of The Whore emerges, peeling off Ms. Tufan’s clothes to reveal lingerie. With a sexy demeanor and a deep voice, she struts about the stage in mock response to the father’s invocations of his daughter as a whore. The Whore disappears as quickly as she appears on stage. Even so, her presence feels like Ms. Tufan reclaiming power from her father. By personifying this dreaded archetype, Ms. Tufan gains control over the fear and hatred that her father instilled in her.
 
The set is itself an intimate panoply of photographs and home videos from Ms. Tufan’s life. Sometimes the backdrop shows abstract smoky and bleeding colors moving and changing to convey an ethereal mood. When Ms. Tufan watches and interacts with her home videos from early childhood, we see the true poignancy of this play. She communes with her younger self, engaging in a redemptive dialogue, be it through speaking or singing or dancing.
 
The show packs a lot from Ms. Tufan’s full life into 90 minutes. A bout with leukemia turns out to be a liberating experience; her hair loss frees her from the femininity that her father tried to control. She briefly modeled, and shares stories of jumping out of cars to escape men. She even teaches the audience the tapping method, something she used to cope with anxiety and trauma.
 
A few elements of the play left me wanting more. Ms. Tufan’s singing voice early on seemed to disappear towards the end; I would have liked for singing to have played a more consistent role. In a few cases, the narrative drive slows, as Ms. Tufan portrays the fragmentation of her life.
 
By the end of the show, Ms. Tufan defies audience expectations. It seems that nothing can surprise us, having seen the lows to which Ms. Tufan’s father could stoop. And yet, she proves just as surprising in her ability to rise above her past. Before our eyes, Ms. Tufan expresses the full force of her artistry in a truly beautiful ending that can only be described as transcendent.
 
Whore
Written and Performed by Suzanne Tufan
Directed by Lindsey Hope Pearlman
March 28th – April 13th, 2019, Thursday-Saturday @ 8pm
Photo credit: Laura Bettelheim
The Paradise Factory Theater
64 East 4th Street in the East Village
New York City
 
CYNTHIA DARLING is a writer and teacher living in Hell’s Kitchen. A writer for NAfME’s Teaching Music magazine for many years, she also wrote for New York Family magazine. She is currently working toward an MFA in Creative Writing with the Bluegrass Writers Studio. Her fiction and nonfiction appear in Louisiana Literature, Schuylkill Valley Journal, and Wanderlust Journal.
 

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