Lipstick Thespians

This year's DIVAfest isn't all about lip gloss and halter tops

Sultry jazz and sequined gowns, 6-foot-tall dudes with fuchsia lip gloss, the timeless lyrical orators of "Pink Cadillac" and "Material Girl": The word "diva" brings all sorts of things to mind. In fact, it's become something of a catchall for estrogen-influenced dramatics of booming resonance -- which might make one wonder what to expect at the Exit Theatre's DIVAfest 2005. But the festival, started by Exit's founding artistic director, Christina Augello, several years ago, is not about attitude or glitz or rhinestone-speckled halter tops with matching 4-inch heels. It's about women in the theater -- actors, directors, techies, and writers -- coming together to produce two weekends of new material. And this year, the fest has moved into some especially hearty terrain.

"I feel like the work is much more aggressive," said an excited Augello on the phone recently. "We're taking on the Middle East, the apocalypse, abortion, breast cancer ... it's confrontational; it will make you think." She's comparing this year's collection of work to the more lighthearted fare in years past. There are still many light moments in the 2005 festival, but the overall flavor is a tad different.

"The intent wasn't as such in the beginning," she explained. "But you start to collect [the plays] and a terrain develops."

Stones, dirt, and tension in The Mandala 
Olive Project at DIVAfest.
Laurie Gallant
Stones, dirt, and tension in The Mandala Olive Project at DIVAfest.


Opens Wednesday, April 20, at 8 p.m. (and continues through April 30)

Tickets are $12-20



The Exit Theatre (156 Eddy at Taylor) and the Exit Theatre on Taylor (277 Taylor at Ellis), S.F.

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One work of note is The Mandala Olive Project, spearheaded by Jewish-American director Amy Mueller (artistic director of the Bay Area Playwrights Festival) and Arab-American director Denmo Ibrahim (co-artistic director of local performance group Mugwumpin). Developed over the past three months, this poetic and image-based experimental piece uses firsthand accounts, contemporary media clips, and the agricultural characteristics of Middle East territories to explore the tension between Palestine and Israel. It's a physical (and also funny) play that Augello, who is featured in the piece, says is akin to a Jackson Pollock painting, in that the separate parts seem undefined, but together they evoke a strong emotion.

Other offerings include Ambivalent Geneses, a new one-act dark comedy written and directed by Sarah McKereghan, which asks big apocalyptic questions about spirituality, sex, and gender roles; Mia Paschal's solo show Some Life, which illustrates 13 facets of a black woman living in the United States; a reading by renowned Beat poet Diane di Prima of her famous "Loba"; and a workshop of local puppeteer extraordinaire Liebe Wetzel's Beauty and the Breast -- a work in progress culled from interviews with breast cancer survivors. That last is a chance to see your undies onstage: Found-object artist Wetzel will "audition" items for involvement in her upcoming show. She's "casting" bras, wigs, pill bottles, and kitchen knives, all of which you can bring to the performance. If arriving at a theater with those things in tow doesn't make you feel like a diva, nothing will.

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