Combining a Dr Strangelove-inspired performance with a daring forum for public conversation, Unexploded Ordnances (UXO) explores ageing, anxiety, hidden desires and how to look forward when the future is uncertain.
Adopting the characters of a bombastic general and ineffectual president, Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver of Split Britches lace this interactive piece with both playful urgency and lethargy, encouraging discussion about the political landscape.
Split Britches see unexploded ordnances as a metaphor for the unexplored potential in elders and hope to uncover buried resources in us all. The 10 oldest audience members join the President (Weaver) at the Table and are invited to share stories, thoughts and fears for the future. The flow is broken again and again, by the ringing of phones, the static of radios, the thunder of helicopters and the General’s (Shaw) outbursts. “We don’t have time for this – our hopes are quickly being reduced to a very low order of probability.” Each performance brings a different focal topic, as the elders come to a consensus on what the Situation is that night: at La Mama Theatre NYC, subjects included fracking, global warming, social security and the demagoguery of Donald Trump.
The piece is laced with the sense of finite endings: the nuclear doomsday from Strangelove and our own mortalities. The clock ticks down, our phone alarms are set to ring in 59 minutes, and the performers play with the rhythms of urgency and lethargy: acting as if our time is running out, or as though we have all the time in the world.
In the final part of the conversation, the elders at the Table are asked to unfurl and read out some of our own unexploded ordnances - hidden desires written on crumpled scraps of paper, accumulated through each residency and performance: Our buried and unexplored desires are re-appropriated as creative solutions to the Situation; as a hopeful, human response to what may feel like a gloomy geopolitical landscape.
‘Split Britches does exactly what we need art in troubled times to do – send us out with questions.’ – Emily Garside, Miro Magazine (Unexploded Ordnances, UXO)
"Planes carrying nukes, the terrifying sound of life atomized into static noise: Unexploded Ordnances (UXO) feels very much of the minute." - Elisabeth Vincentelli, The New York Times
‘It is also wonderful to watch the rapport Ms. Weaver and Ms. Shaw have forged over shared decades. When the ringing cellphones mark the end of the show, you wish you could continue chatting at the bar around the corner — nuclear winter can wait.’ – Elisabeth Vincentelli, The New York Times
‘One of the ingenious paradoxes and tensions of this piece is that the very thing our society needs more of — meaningful political dialogue — here becomes inimical to a thing we need even more badly: swift, decisive rescue.’ - Trav S.D, Gay City News
‘The approach reflects Split Britches’ longstanding interest in the personal and political impact of aging — a staunch belief in the importance of talking things out.’ - Elisabeth Vincentelli, The New York Times
‘Unexploded Ordnances is the most joyful of wakes, a celebration of the precious time we’re given on Earth, and an appeal for us to be better.’ - Jose Solis, Stage Buddy
‘What Shaw, Weaver and Maxwell have cleverly devised is a theatre piece that introduces a subject, and then explores it through the experiences of those in attendance who have experienced life the most, emphasizing the simple, but often forgotten method of problem-solving through respectful interactive communication.’ - Michael Dale, Broadway World
‘Using this as source material while uniquely embellishing it, Unexploded Ordnances (UXO) can be interpreted as a humorous, provocative and cryptic meditation on the meaning of human existence.’ - Darryl Reilly, Theatre Scene
Academic Benjamin Gillespie wrote an article on Unexploded Ordnances (UXO) titled ‘Detonating Desire’ in the Journal Performance Research, Volume 24, Issue 3 on Aging (& Beyond):
This article details Split Britches’ participatory model within the context of their four-decade performance history, ultimately showing how the piece challenges popular tropes of ageing that are destructive and declinist with more creative and desirable solutions […] the performance subverts the cultural view that older people are disconnected and disengaged from current social and political debates by having elders act against these stereotypes themselves through the imperative of performance, thus reversing the tendency to privilege more youthful voices in contemporary theatre.