In a particularly fraught moment in the story during solo performer Marga Gomez’s 13th newest show “Spanking Machine,” now coming your way every Sunday via Zoom through Oct. 11, the WiFi went out on her live feed. Gomez soldiered on without the knowledge that her hard work was being played for an internet connection that was no more. The stage manager gently called for her, which caused Gomez to express some subtle consternation when she discovered that all her hard work had no beneficiaries. Yet in that moment and a few others later, when technology decided to take a crap on her show, Gomez did what she does best when the connection returned.
She kept it real, she kept it honest, and she kept it moving.
“Spanking Machine,” written and performed by Gomez and produced by Brava Theater has everything you would expect from the solo show guru. It is delightfully humorous with good laughs sprinkled throughout, but its strength lies in its honesty. The roads she navigates to bring her audience to those laughs are filled with raw and candid empathy.
The spanking machine is a reference to a contraption that her cohort of Catholic school buddies believed lived among the nuns who taught them. While the show does a bang-up job of creating the backdrop that is her school, wittily using the premise to bring the show full circle at the end, the story is heavily focused on her classmate Agamemnon. The joke goes that the young boy’s multisyllabic name is entirely too Cuban, so the American translation of Scotty is much more appropriate. Scotty decides to call Marga “Margaret,” a name as milquetoast and generic as an American name can strive to be.
It’s been 40 years since Margaret and Scotty have had any connection as children in New York’s Washington Heights, and Scotty invites Margaret via email to his home in Miami 40 years after they last met as teens, where the promise of becoming a Latina Julia Roberts a la “Pretty Woman” is too much to turn down. There are also some very personal reasons why Gomez wants to meet up with Scotty, a man who is dealing with serious health problems and, as she finds, a heavy dose of delusion.
There are early signs that the meeting with Scotty is not as easy as jumping into the first-class flight he promised on the way to a glitzy hotel he was going to book for her, but didn’t. Scotty displays a cat-like evasiveness in his communication, promising the world but unable to deliver even a village.
All of the delightful wit and searing social commentary about how trauma shapes every aspect of who we become informs Marga’s heartbreaking portrayal of Scotty. Through the subtle and razor-sharp humor and hilarity of Gomez’s sardonically delightful writing, the show is beautifully balanced between gut-busting laughs and life-altering heartbreak. Her pen lays out fantastic bits of hilarity, such as the spot-on observation that Gloria Estefan’s music plays in Miami restaurants due to city ordinance. It’s one of the many morsels of brilliance peppered throughout the script.
The heartbeat of the piece is in her portrayal of Scotty, a boy who she first sloppy kissed, which Gomez claims to have made both of them gay forever. Scotty, in the hands of Gomez, is a wholly sympathetic figure that is further complicated by Gomez’ depth-filled portrayal. It is painful and uncomfortable to see Scotty try to work the room in a restaurant, a man grasping for clout that may be viewed as cartoonish. She puts in the work, really grasping the nuances of the Zoom venue, getting up close and personal and making the experience a really intricate dance between performer and technology. Gomez does much to shorten the gap that exists when one consumes media through a device.
Ultimately, this work is a high-skilled balance between the joy and humor that Gomez portrays, underlined with pain and trauma. Gomez pulls no punches – her words, actions and eyes tell a story that is layered with honesty, and as she inches closer to her camera, her eyes open, light beads of sweat resting just beneath, revealing her soul, her joy and her pain. Scotty is a complicated figure in her life, and Gomez’ desire to close certain doors is the fuel that fires the action with conviction.
“Spanking Machine” means many things and goes in plenty of directions through the piece’s 75 minutes. Ultimately, it’s a strong and unapologetic reminder that, even though painful things might have happened to us years ago, there is difficulty in navigating those moments because they often feel like they happened yesterday.
For Gomez, laughter seems to be the very best medicine.
WHAT TO KNOW
Brava Theater Center presents “Spanking Machine”
Written and performed by Marga Gomez
The Word: Gomez, a veteran solo performer, tackles the Zoom play, bringing forth a humorous and honest work that is poignant and funny.
Sundays at 5 pm through Oct. 11th
Running Time: 75 minutes with no intermission
Suggested donations start at $20, low-income sliding scale available
For tickets, visit www.Brava.org