A master at spinning the vicissitudes of her own life into trenchantly funny performances, Marga Gomez wants to make it clear that her new production, “Swimming With Lesbians” isn’t autobiographical.
It’s not that she’s averse to taking a dip, but her 14th one-woman show, which premieres at Brava Theater Oct. 6-22, is less a personal saga than a sitcom farce encompassing eight characters who chase, tease and hassle each other while vacationing aboard the world’s oldest lesbian cruise ship, the fictional Celesbian.
While it’s true that Gomez was a fixture on Olivia Cruises, “Swimming” has “nothing to do with” the pioneering lesbian travel company’s high seas adventures back in the 20th century, she said. “I was an emcee on those cruises in the ‘90s, but I can safely say it doesn’t have much to do with Olivia, because I don’t remember shit from the ‘90s.”
Excavating the more distant past has proven to be fertile territory for the comedian, with recent one-woman shows like “Latin Standards,” which explored the long shadow of her Cuban father, comedian and master of ceremonies Willy Chevalier, and “Spanking Machine,” a tautly funny but often harrowing account of her childhood in New York City’s Washington Heights.
Rather than drawing from specific people or situations that Gomez encountered on Olivia Cruises, “Swimming With Lesbians” was inspired more by “the living nostalgia of a cruise ship,” she said. “Even back then, I thought this would be a great story. There are so many films and musicals set on cruise ships, where there are a lot of people at some sort of interesting passage in their lives. You’ve got interactions between strangers. Throw in a rogue wave, you’ve got drama and excitement.”
In her research, she didn’t rewatch “The Poseidon Adventure” or “Titanic” (though amidst the flood of double-entendres and Sapphic word-play in “Swimming,” there’s talk of going down on the ship). For background, she binge-watched “The Love Boat.” And, in honing the characters, which include Pru Perez, the bingo caller with a mortifying secret, and Isabella, the scandal-scarred lacrosse player who’s eager to embark on her first lesbian affair, Gomez worked with Sara Toby Moore, creator of the world’s first clown opera company.
“There’s definitely the spirit of Pee Wee Herman and SpongeBob,” she said. “Sara is brilliant, and she helped bring out that physical comedy clown aspect, which shapes the voices. And that changes the writing, too.”
Gomez has been workshopping “Swimming” around the Bay Area for the past year, including a run at the Marsh. An artist-in-residence at Brava since 2015, she’s a decades-long resident of the Mission or its immediate environs, and the neighborhood has served her well as a base of operations, she said.
In creating “Swimming With Lesbians,” the idea was to move away from “all the introspection of 2020-21, to offer a final farewell to the panini and the lockdown,” Gomez said, referring to one nickname for the Covid-19 pandemic. While exploring serious themes amidst the farce, the idea was to offer “a romp with a lot of lesbian characters,” she said, because why should men get to do all the cruising?
24th Street Blues at the Make Out Room
Tom Heyman is a veteran guitarist and singer/songwriter who’s collaborated with the likes of Chuck Prophet, John Doe, Alejandro Escovedo and Hiss Golden Messenger. He’s also a longtime Mission resident who works at the Make Out Room, where he’s celebrating the release of his trenchant new album “24th Street Blues” Sunday with Tarnation.
An expert pedal steel player, Heyman is also playing a songwriters-in-the-round session Oct. 15 at the Lost Church with Austin-based BettySoo and Michael Fracasso. A gimlet-eyed view on gentrification and other challenges facing the neighborhood, “24th Street Blues” includes caustic pieces about micro shock-doctrine opportunists like “The Mission Is On Fire.”
More than an album, the CD comes with a companion 60-page songbook that includes lyrics, music charts and paintings and drawings designed by Deirdre F. White as companion pieces for each song. White is a longtime artist who shares Heyman’s prophetic rage at the region’s dystopian inequality and lack of affordable housing.
MAPP, a new mural at the Red Poppy, and Adrián Arias
The Mission’s mural landscape loses a powerful presence and gains a new work Saturday afternoon when Peruvian-born artist Adrián Arias presents “Indigenous Woman Is Not Invisible” as part of the free Mission Arts & Performance Project (MAPP) program. The new mural replaces one installed by on the Red Poppy Art House’s wall by street artists Yescka and Jhovani de Ala in 2015, honoring Black men shot and killed by the police, “Yescka: A Visual Encounter of the Socio-Political & Artistic Languages Rising from the Streets of Oaxaca, Mexico.”
A founder and Red Poppy Art House artist-in-residence, Arias and Reneé Baldocchi, an arts advocate and long-time supporter of the Red Poppy, preside over the unveiling, which runs from 4:30-6 p.m. and includes poetry by Kim Shuck and a performance by Classical Revolution violinist Charith Premawardhana.
Regular MAPP programming, curated by Arias, follows after a 45-minute intermission inside and outside the Red Poppy with performances by the Classical Revolution Piano Quartet, Monica Maria & Jackie Rago, poetry and tarot reading by Jenna and Adrian, and María José Montijo’s Esoterica Tropical.
Jazz Mafia members at Manny’s
While Manny’s is an essential civic hub for San Francisco, the community space has also become a musical outpost with free On the Corner performances on Fridays presented by the Jazz Mafia (the Bay Area collective that brings together jazz, R&B, hip hop and classical musicians in a multiplicity of projects and situations). Taking place in the parklet at 16th and Valencia streets, the series runs through Nov. 18, and this week’s features core Jazz Mafia members in New Directions In Brass.