Most theatre critics will state for the record that your typical one-(wo)man show is about one person; the person who’s performing it. It’s hardly a point that needs to be argued, especially when the piece is created from autobiographical material.
Okay, maybe I will argue the point. I think, more often, it’s about two people. Someone on the periphery, someone important to the performer who takes up all of their attention, even while they’re speaking directly to you for an hour or more. You’re invited in to hear about this ephemeral figure who you’ll never see. They’re just offstage, or lurking in the corner of your eye. It’s usually a love interest, or a family member, maybe a teacher or a friend.
But for Cyndi Freeman, it’s Wonder Woman.
Freeman’s show, Wonder Woman: A How To Guide For Little Jewish Girls, chronicles her development from timid Bostonian girl to NYC burlesque diva and how the lady in red, gold and blue helped her get to where she is today. It’s a story about growing up and staying young, about loving yourself on your own terms and remembering that it’s always cool to fight Nazis. In short, it’s about life and the things we do to flourish and enjoy every minute of it.
Freeman’s love for the Amazon woman is infectious, even for those who may have never found themselves impressed by the crowned superheroine. The audience is treated to hefty doses of unlikely (yet entirely true) background on the franchise; that William Moulton Marston, the man who created her, truly believed women were superior to men, that he lived in a polyamorous relationship with two women who continued their relationship after his death. Freeman tells us of how she went to the Wonder Woman Museum, owned by Marston’s family, and how they reverently talked about his wife Elizabeth, a clear inspiration for Diana’s character.
We are given a special pass into stories of childhood, the creation of Freeman’s own Amazon character who would fight alongside Diana. The dreamed up self-insert was aptly named Moon Goddess and she sounded like she would have been much cooler than Diana’s actual screen sister, Drusilla. It’s more comical for the fact that stories like these are rooted in memories we can all likely relate to. Be honest, haven’t we all done that as children? I imagined I was Indiana Jones’s daughter as a wee bairn. (And then he ended up with a son. Needless to say, I was highly disappointed.)
But what touched me the most during that performance had nothing to do with the history of Wonder Woman or childhood antics or even the empowering tale that tracked Freeman’s rise as a burlesque queen. Instead it was the point where she talked of her quest for a mentor, a guiding presence who she could look up to. We all know the saying “never meet you heroes,” and Freeman’s personal experience in meeting one of hers only proved the point. Which is why she came back to Wonder Woman, the only figure in her life who had been capable of consoling her in times of need, of encouraging her to take on the world when it looked the most bleak.
She pointed out that when your heroes come from the pages of a comic book or through a television screen, they can never let you down. They stay forever, in your mind, that same pillar of whatever-you-need-most. They are unchangeable and steadfast and true.
How true that is.
Which is why, whenever I see a child accused of being “escapist” or “out of touch” in their love for this book series or that movie, my heart breaks a little and I rush to defend them. It’s not the place of well-adjusted adults to deprive anyone of solace in the imagination. We all need our hero. For Cyndi Freeman, it’s Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman: A How To Guide For Little Jewish Girls has a new performance date!:
Emily Asher-Perrin’s hero was Luke Skywalker. Which was helpful, as Jedi are so chill. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.