I’ve always felt that the power of comedy is underestimated. Humor can be grasped universally and understood as an insider’s secret at the same time. By way of a joke, and the laughter that comes with it, we as humans can skip the pretense and go directly to connection. If you get it, you get it. And if you get it, you can feel both seen and understood. This is how it felt to watch Marga Gomez’s Spanking Machine at 1st Stage in Tysons.
Spanking Machine is a one-person show written and performed by Marga Gomez. Using a mix of monologue-like storytelling and stand-up comedy, Gomez describes aspects of her life growing up in Washington Heights, being Queer and Cuban and Catholic, and finding connection and/or disillusionment in other people. The show may seem roundabout, but it’s full of quick anecdotes that clearly speak to the heart of what Gomez is saying about her life and identity, so spending minutes of runtime on Barnabas Collins of Dark Shadows fame feels exactly right as she goes on to explain how Collins perfectly represents what it’s like to be Queer. It’s difficult to describe the performance any more than that since there are so many details, but rest assured that in Gomez’s hands, each one is relevant and resonant.
Gomez is the unequivocal star of the show. There is no way for me to get at just how damn funny her delivery is. There were moments during the performance when I actually howled. The material she’s written is deeply witty, her timing is bar none, and, perhaps most important, the emotion, conviction, and earnestness are all there, as they should be, considering that Gomez is such a seasoned performer. I urge you to witness this for yourself.
Since a solid 90 percent of the pull can come from Gomez’s skill and charisma alone, the technical parts of the show are smartly kept simple. Production embraces just enough lighting (Elliott Shugoll) and sound (Kevin Alexander) cues to immerse us in the world without driving attention away from Gomez’s verbal meandering. Instead, the changes in light and atmospheric sound work together expertly to outline exact moments in time and place, ushering us between Miami and Washington Heights, childhood and adulthood. Set dressing is just as straightforward: two projections (Nitsan Scharf) frame the stage (both childhood photos of Gomez captioned with the show’s title), a box sits a little off to the right, and Gomez occasionally uses a stool. For the most part, the rest of the elements do not vary, with the exception of two costume changes, both done rapid-fire in front of the audience: “You can’t get this at Hamilton,” Gómez says, taking off one button-down and replacing it with another.
Like other pieces that strike similar comedy gold, Spanking Machine has, at its center, a disarming heart of pain and reconciliation. As the piece continues, Gomez lets the audience in on the suffering attached to some, though not all, of her anecdotes. She always picks the humor back up, but we begin to see the artist in full, as she shares with us the very real, sometimes traumatic experiences that don’t build this entire show but do frame it. It’s moving, to say the least, but it’s also mindful and healing, thanks to Gomez’s honesty and self-awareness.
That self-awareness is what consistently shines through, and what takes the show to a whole other level. Even as Gomez relates parts of her story that she was unsure about at the time, it’s clear that she knows now, and is ready to show up as herself and say what she has to say. Her humor, her art, is both open to everyone in the room and specific enough to say to the audience: “If you get it, you get it.” With each joke, each anecdote, Gomez seems to be saying: “If you know, you know.”And as someone who, while watching, often felt like I did get it, I can tell you that it is really something special.
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission.
Spanking Machine plays on August 5 and 6, 2022, at 8:00 PM and on August 7 at 2:00 PM, in repertory with Wanda’s Way and Tomatoes Tried to Kill Me But Banjos Saved My Life at 1st Stage, 1524 Spring Hill Road, Tysons, VA. For the complete Logan Festival of Solo Performance schedule and to purchase tickets ($20 general, $15 educators or military, $10 students, $50 Festival Pass), go online or call 703-854-1856.
The Logan Festival of Solo Performance program is online here.
COVID Safety: Masks and proof of vaccination are required. See complete 1st Stage’s COVID Safety Information here.
1st Stage 2022/23 season brings four regional premieres to Tysons
A commanding performance of a police officer in ‘Wanda’s Way’ at 1st Stage (Logan Festival of Solo Performance review by Carolyn Bock)
‘Tomatoes Tried to Kill Me But Banjos Saved My Life’ at 1st Stage is storytelling at its best (Logan Festival of Solo Performance review by Carolyn Bock)