Review: In ‘Unexploded Ordnances,’ It’s an Hour to Doomsday. Help!



Peggy Shaw, far left, as the macho General in “Unexploded Ordnances (UXO)” at La MaMa. Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Planes carrying nukes, the terrifying sound of life atomized into static noise: “Unexploded Ordnances (UXO)” feels very much of the minute.

Yet the feminist duo Split Britches has spent almost two years working on its new play, which bears the 1960s aesthetic of Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove” rather than the totalitarian kitsch of Kim Jong-un, so you can’t accuse the company of hot-button opportunism. These theatermakers have steadfastly remained on the outer edge of the mainstream since 1980.

While it’s impossible to avoid the (mushroom) cloud hovering above the show — which is at La MaMa as part of the Under the Radar festival — the Split Britches co-founders Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver, who perform in “Unexploded Ordnances (UXO)” and wrote it with Hannah Maxwell, take a broader view. This is only fitting for a pair that has long explored the connections between gender roles, class, feminism and homosexuality against a background of American political and literary mythmaking.

The title refers to buried or forgotten munitions, and the problem, as Ms. Weaver puts it onstage, is that “we don’t know where UXOs are exactly, what energy is left in them, what would happen if we uncovered one — we just know we should be careful with our curiosity.” By extension, the show suggests that potentially dangerous ammo includes our pent-up desires and abandoned dreams.


Lois Weaver (left, as the President) and Ms. Shaw are the founders of Split Britches and wrote the new play with Hannah Maxwell. Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Sitting at a situation room’s round table, Ms. Weaver, who also directs, portrays an unnamed President in a blazer, short skirt and sock garters. She is a dryly comic foil to Ms. Shaw’s General — a part played with such sly machismo, you wish someone would cast her in a Tom Clancy adaptation.

Ms. Weaver, however, sometimes breaks character and it may be “Lois” who invites volunteers to sit at the table for a “council of elders.” She selects the oldest audience members by asking questions such as “Who was born during World War II?” and “Who remembers the Cuban missile crisis?”

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