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    Marga Gomez Returns to The Marsh with Heartrending Memoir

    Award-winning writer/performer Marga Gomez debuted her first work at The Marsh San Francisco nearly 30 years ago, so it is only fitting that she was selected as the performer to reopen the doors of this theater after 18 months of strictly virtual offerings.

    Described as, “Amazing! A lesbian Lenny Bruce,” by Robin Williams and “salaciously surreal” by the San Francisco Chronicle, Gomez has captivated audiences with works that explore personal experiences that have shaped her life in profound ways—from her mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s to life as a child of a blustery Cuban showman and more.

    For her much-anticipated return to the stage, Gomez opted to perform her thirteenth and final show, Spanking Machine. While Gomez is typically known for her comedic pieces, she wanted to show Bay Area theater lovers a different side of herself with this work,reflecting on her past and the moments brought up through a special, lifelong connection.

    San Francisco Bay Times: We have read that Spanking Machine is about growing up queer and as a person of color in Washington Heights. Interestingly, the new film In the Heights features a lesbian couple. Is Washington Heights the new “lesbian mecca”?

    Marga Gomez: I wish! Unfortunately, when Lin-Manuel’s movie makes my old neighborhood hot, tourists come, rent increases, and lesbians get priced out and move back to Northampton. Seriously, though, the Washington Heights in my play was a foreboding heteronormative place for young queers. The only lesbian I ever saw growing up was the token booth clerk at our subway station. She dressed like an Alison Bechdel character with a tiny “Dyke” button on her shirt. I was so clueless—I didn’t know what Dyke meant. In Spanking Machine, I revisit my childhood friend, a closeted Cuban boy who called himself Scotty. He and I were programmed by the nuns at our school to think we were Irish and heterosexual, which led us to many unsatisfying make-out sessions after school in our Catholic uniforms. That was pretty funny-looking back then and kind of gross.

    San Francisco Bay Times: But Spanking Machine is described as a drama?

    Marga Gomez: I like to call it a drama with comedy, weaving light and dark stories. When I began developing Spanking Machine in 2019, it was a purely silly kitschy memoir. Then I asked myself: “Why am I revisiting this period in my life?” There should be a deep reason for our time on stage. With the help of my director at the time, Adrian Alea, a gay Cuban himself, I uncovered some traumatic doozies. In many of my shows, I use humor as a tool for survival. Spanking Machine is a story of survival.

    San Francisco Bay Times: Was there a reason (or reasons) that you chose to bring this particular work to The Marsh San Francisco?

    Marga Gomez: My friend Stephanie Weisman, The Marsh Founder/Artistic Director, attended my birthday party this June, where the conversation eventually turned to, “Is theatre ever coming back?” Stephanie said that The Marsh was reopening in the fall, and I blurted out, “I wanna do my show.” She booked me at my birthday party. Now that’s a gift!

    [On September 17] I was the first performer to “reopen” the doors at The Marsh San Francisco, which is fitting. I was technically the first solo show on The Marsh stage. In 1991, before they officially opened, I performed Memory Tricks, a show about my mother. Up to that point, I was working as a queer stand-up comedian around the country and in San Francisco at legendary queer cabarets, The Valencia Rose and Josie’s. My mother was quite ill with Alzheimer’s and, I didn’t know how, but I wanted to tell her story. Everything fell into place when I met Stephanie and found The Marsh audience. A year later, Memory Tricks went from The Marsh to The Public Theater, Off-Broadway. Solo performance is a genre where I can go deep, express my full self, and portray the people in my life in such a way that my stories become everyone’s story. Since its beginning, The Marsh has been the mother of this art form.

    San Francisco Bay Times: As you geared up for the return to in-person performances, how have you felt about getting back on stage?

    Marga Gomez: I’m excited and ready. Spanking Machine has been ready since March 13, 2020—when it was supposed to premiere. At about the same, the shelter-in-place was implemented, and I was disoriented in a special way. I had been rehearsing my piece at San Francisco’s Brava Theater, and was wired to open.

    When I realized there was no end in sight to the lockdown, I taught myself how to adapt Spanking Machine virtually. Not only was I a tech novice, but also the gear I needed was scarcer than toilet paper when the shelter-in-place hit. My lowest point was a dead of night meeting on a deserted downtown street corner with a “tech bro” who overcharged me for a webcam.

    I eventually upgraded to better equipment, and virtually performed Spanking Machine to audiences from San Diego to New York. As I readjust for a live audience, I draw on what I learned performing to a camera lens these last 17 months. Solo performance is a one-on-one exchange, with many people simultaneously. I return to The Marsh a more honest artist than I was before the pandemic. Let’s go!

    San Francisco Bay Times: Is there a spanking machine in the show?

    Marga Gomez: Only if you remove your face covering while inside the theater.

    San Francisco Bay Times: Anything else you’d like to add?

    Marga Gomez: Without giving away too much, some of my trials in Spanking Machine are linked to society’s age-old control of women’s bodies. Now that Texas and The Supreme Court have sent women back to the 1950s, my piece, which I thought I finished writing in 2020, has new meaning as part of the bigger picture.

    Marga Gomez’s Spanking Machine will be presented live on stage through October 23, 2021, with performances at 8 pm Fridays & Saturdays at The Marsh San Francisco, 1062 Valencia Street. For tickets or more information, call 415-282-3055 or visit https://themarsh.org/

    Published on September 23, 2021