Carrie Preston on women performing solo: “Venus plus Virgin Mary”

Sarah Silverman is a fantastically funny contemporary version of the theoretical model of solo performance I propose in Modernism’s Mythic Pose: Gender, Genre, Solo Performance. I argue that women used solos from the nineteenth century to the contemporary period to interrogate received notions of gendered identity and suggest new possibilities. In solos, they were free from directors and collaborators who would stifle their individual visions. These performances were “mythic” because they often adopted poses from classical or Judeo-Christian types, but they occupied these positions in unconventional ways by, for example, connecting the goddess Venus to Mary, mother of Jesus. Silverman uses many of these techniques in her own solo performances. She invokes nearly mythic cultural types so as to exaggerate them and show us their ludicrous aspects. Her film Jesus is Magic draws together many different examples from her standup comedy, but the title illustrates the technique of using religious myth to challenge social and cultural conventions.
Carrie Preston, BU Professor of English and author of Modernism’s Mythic Pose: Gender, Genre, Solo Performance (OUP 2011)

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