By Martha Wade Steketee
“When you’re a woman of a certain age,” Tulis McCall impishly informs us, “regret is everywhere.”
McCall’s one woman show Are You Serious?, running Sundays through the end of March at the Cornelia Street Café (where it has been charming audiences since late 2016), is a tale of standing in your truth while looking backwards and forwards, balancing regret with blow jobs and orgasms and periods and being invisible. The 50-minute monologue explores the middle age shift in the universe while she lives through it, becoming a woman people don’t notice or ask or pay attention to or care about.
Yet, this is not a dire railing against aging and time. Host McCall, full of humor and wisdom, master of the monologue, is eager to share what she has learned about being a Woman of a Certain Age, a concept she soon reduces to its acronym WCA. There are loads of laughs and nods of acceptance and recognition in reaction to her musings.
Just as in the political, personal, literate, closely-observed humor of George Carlin (1937-2008), McCall explores the cultural language of aging as well as the gender specific effects. For example, she muses that we “hit” the decades of 30 and 40 and 50 and 60 and even 70 in American culture, while we say that we “reach” 80 and 90, and then “make it” to ages beyond. Amidst the chuckles at these visions of men and women banging heads against decades, then grabbing with extended fingers the edges of later decades, then resolving (or simply surviving) into the oldest phases, we recognize some truths. Language matters, she shows us in this example, and our hearts are open.
While “on the conveyor belt of actual life,” McCall asserts that you become a WCA when you want time to slow down, when you begin to “check the age of those who died and do the math.” It’s individual self-awareness in the passage of time, looking back and looking forward, and seeing common ground with others in the adventure.
Stories address the gradual awareness of aging – not as a desperate reveal but a phenomenon that sneaks up on you while you’re busy living your life. Stephen Sondheim’s melancholy tune “Who’s That Woman” from Follies (1971) reflects the melancholy surprise of an aging show girl caught unawares by her own mirrored reflection. “Who’s that woman / That cheery, weary woman / Who’s dressing for yet one more spree? / Each day I see her pass / In my looking-glass– / Lord, Lord, Lord, that woman is me!” McCall, on the other hand, presents us stories of a woman grabbing life by the tail, momentarily surprised by a reflected image of a WCA stranger, while not at all bemoaning a younger phase of life.
Amidst remarks on gender differences, e.g. “for men age is not an adjective, it’s a destination,” this is a universal story of the human condition. “The past is just a junk yard and the future is a wasteland,” Tulis McCall tells us. And where we want to be is with her in the unapologetic right now, right here, connecting with fellow humans, honestly feeling our world around us.
Are You Serious? A Woman of a Certain Age Inquires. Sundays through March 26 at Cornelia Street Café (29 Cornelia Street). Running time 50 minutes with no intermission. http://areyouserious.nyc/