Evan Haga Introduces the December 2013 Issue

Art to art: René Marie's one-woman show

One of the myriad things I love about jazz is that it’s old and important enough to have infiltrated most artistic disciplines, and can act as a portal into fresh pursuits. That iconic, smoke-filled image of Dexter Gordon from 1948 leads to its photographer, Herman Leonard, who connects to Yousuf Karsh and, soon enough, the entire history of American portraiture. A bebop obsessive will inevitably find his or her way to the Beat writers; a bright, curious newbie taken with the sleeve of Ornette’s Free Jazz will seek out more pictures by Jackson Pollock and follow those down the rabbit hole of modern painting. And it’s very possible that our current cover subject, singer and songwriter (and frequent JT podcast cohost) René Marie, has inspired interest in the theatre.

In October, I saw the final performance in a brief New York run of Slut Energy Theory, the one-woman show Marie wrote and stars in. As you can surmise from that title, she pulls no punches during the 80-minute program. Portraying a charismatic elderly Southern woman with enough humor to leaven the disturbing, downright transgressive content, Marie recalls a life blindsided by sexual abuse with scary realness: the complex, confused feelings about the offender, in this case her father; the persistent affliction that manifests itself in weird new ways year after year; the addict’s sense that sex is both a solution to a problem that can’t be defined and the problem itself.

Eventually, in a finale that is testament to a deep understanding of feminism and Marie’s instinct for how good art shouldn’t draw to a tidy close, she begins a cleansing, purging walk toward the Grand Canyon. As she struts and dances offstage she’s singing with trademark gospel-blues soul, in a voice fit for a major concert hall. Within the play, it functions as an ambiguous, almost nihilistic rebirth; for Marie fans, it doubles as a return to the source.