No Pants in Tucson is a comedic, rebellious study of the outrageous bigoted state laws aimed at constricting what women could wear in the 19th, 20th, and even 21st centuries. Such laws barred, you guessed it, women from wearing pants in Tucson, and in general around the US as well as other archaic laws whose ramifications are still felt today. What’s just as impressive as the mix of comedy and drama in a simple stage setting that truly made the audience laugh, scoff at perplexing rules, and feel for the very real characters on stage, is the historical accuracy of the show. The production team of women, non-binary, and transgender artists at The Anthropologists' have crafted a stunning portrayal of those lost to history, buried under laws that made them illegal for simply trying to be free, like men.
No Pants in Tucson grabs you by the seat of your .... well, you know what -- and I mean that in a good way. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when, on a brisk Wednesday evening, I walked into The Anthropologists' latest production dreamed up by Melissa Moschitto, the group's Founding Artistic Director, and performer Mariah Freda.
Pre-show, Moschitto eloquently reminded the audience that The Anthropologists' company has, for thirteen years, worked tirelessly to be as inclusive and anti-racist as possible. Mistakes will be made along the way, and important lessons will be learned . This candor was refreshing.
Clearly, The Anthropologists' mission is to "create dynamic plays rooted in social inquiry," centering stories around those that have been intentionally erased from history books. Here is a theater for all -- seriously, all. (There were, in fact, two ASL interpreters present.) The theater promises a safe, equitable space for their performers and audience alike,one that acknowledges and embraces all of our differences (from sex/gender expression to race and class). At least for 65 minutes...
This passion project started in 2018, lived through the pandemic, and was finally given life on stage at the A.R.T Theater in Manhattan. Zeal flowed from Moschitto's opening statement (in which she also acknowledged whose land we were sitting on -- the Lenape and Canarsie peoples), throughout the entire show.
No Pants in Tucson opens with an androgenous actor sitting alone on stage, save for a colorfully lit backdrop, who addresses the audience, daring you to guess "who is the woman, who is the woman dressed as a man, or the man dressed as a woman." There are a total of four actors in the show. The actors take turns playing women from the past looking for "freer, happier lives" -- many through wearing pants -- but all face the same scorn and harassment for not succumbing to oppressive, gender-centric laws. We see the violence and silencing power of the patriarchy through the vivacity of the actors on stage. And while the themes are serious, the tone is often humorous.
The stage actors succeed in enraging the audience with baseless rules that control(ed) women, giving them no opportunity for freedom. They use absurd displays of movement in a circle shaped skirt, yelp and guffaw at one another, and recite ordinances like "no pants in Tucson!" with precise accuracy while squishing their noses in ridicule. You can't help but burst into laughter as Civil War Era cartoon-like "reporters" chase Dr. Mary Edwards Walker as she tends to the wounded at battle, all the while calling her a nurse and asking: "Have you had sex with a man?" She implores them to report that she was the only woman to graduate from Syracuse Medical College, with honors as well, or that she had been arrested 13 times for wearing pants. But the press wanted what they want today: a sensationalized story that will sell. The stories of these women from the past are eerily reminiscent of today's laws and media. Just look at the latest headline about musical powerhouse Billie Eilish (TLDR: it's about her body, not her talent or success). "Paper’s gotta sell," as one actor boasts on stage... sounds familiar in the 21st century.
No Pants in Tucson doesn't shy away from the harsh, racist, and homophobic reality of the past or the present. Yes, white women have historically been repressed, but their stories are more well known than uber-repressed black women and trans people. This becomes apparent when Maude Allen, a black woman posing as James Allen for eight years to earn a living, takes the stage.
"I know a woman of my race has not much chance. The thought occurred to me that I might make success as a man… so with due thought, I shaved my head and bought an entire outfit of men's clothes."
Yet she fell ill and was found out to not be a man. She was illegal and forced to pay a fine and dress as a woman. But what happened to her? Was she treated for her illness? Was she allowed to teach Sunday school at Church? All we know is that she broke the law by dressing like a man to try to get ahead in life.
Then there's Harry Allen who, as one reporter notes, is "confusing." Harry, born Nell Pickerell, dressed like a man, acted like a man, sounded like a man -- so the logical conclusion was to place Harry in a psych ward. I mean, which bathroom does Harry belong in? That's a question still asked, and even brought to the Supreme Court who we watch quarrel on trans rights with a focus on bathroom-speak, and the court's general inadequacy when it comes to women's freedom. What's with America's obsession about who uses which toilet?
Halfway through the show I had a thought: I love these actors; each and everyone one of them. They are charismatic, endearing, and raw. They are powerful and won't let their bodies be controlled by the patriarchy. And they have a wicked sense of humor. The experience is a doozy but the message is loud and clear: Why can't we be left alone? Why are men and lawmakers so obsessed with our bodies? The ramifications of past laws are still glaringly evident today.
No Pants in Tucson is silly and ridiculous, but not nearly as silly and ridiculous as the bigoted state laws from the 19th and 20th centuries that made it illegal for women to wear pants in public -- and all other laws controlling women, trans, and non-binary people's bodies. It/s all just so confusing, right Chief Justice Roberts?
Hurry and get your tickets. There are only two shows left: Sat. Nov 13th 2021, 7:30 pm. And Sunday, Nov 14th 2021, 5:00 pm. See more information here.