Diana Oh Is a Fierce Feminist Who Rocks Out in Her Underwear

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Diana Oh in {my lingerie play}. Photo: Jeremy Daniel

There are a few things Diana Oh doesn’t have time for these days. Notably: assholes and subtlety. A few days ago, I saw Oh — a multitalented dynamo of a performer — in full command of the neon-lit, confetti-covered stage at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, where she and a team of formidable collaborators are staging a show that’s equal parts theater, punk rock concert, protest, confessional, and celebration until October 28. It’s Oh’s brainchild, and its title is as multifaceted as its content. It’s called: {my lingerie play} 2017: THE CONCERT AND CALL TO ARMS!!!!!!!!! The Final Installation. Now we’re drinking tea together at a minimalist place in Hell’s Kitchen.

The show is the culmination of a series of public installations that Oh began in 2014, all under the umbrella of {my lingerie play}. She’s staged these pieces everywhere from Times Square (“EVEN IF YOU FOUND ME LIKE THIS (you still can’t rape me)” and “YOU WERE BORN FROM HERE,” among others) to right outside the gates of the White House (“MAKEY OUTY”). Over her cup of tea, Oh tells me about the genesis of the {my lingerie play} project.

She actually thought up the performance-slash-concert first, she says, and sat down to write it in 2014. She had seen an online article in which a woman shared pictures of her lingerie with cutesy-sexy stories attached to each one (“I wore this when I made out with that football player and then his mom walked in!”). “Holy shit!” Oh remembers thinking, “Dope North Star!” (This is her phrase for a bolt of inspiration — the thing you’ve got to orient your compass toward and follow no matter what.) “I was like, I have so much lingerie! I’m going to tell stories and sing songs and just … humanize the sexual woman. Humanize myself onstage. And let everyone know that, yes, we can totally have sexy times and also, don’t treat me like shit. It’s like, ‘Let’s have an epic, spiritual time together. In our underwear!’”

Oh’s stories aren’t cutesy-sexy — they’re honest and funny and raw. But she still had a hard time committing them to paper at first. “I had that moment of throwing my pen down, closing my computer, and being like, ‘This is bullshit,’” she told me. “I just felt like I was going to write this piece and the same 100 people were going to come see it and say” — and here she physically pats herself on the back — “Yes, I will continue to not treat people poorly, I am such a great theatergoer.” She realized she had to take it to the streets. She had to talk to strangers — in her lingerie.

Now she’s back indoors at Rattlestick — where Oh describes artistic director Daniella Topol as “just so badass”— with the most fully fleshed out version of the {my lingerie play} concert performance yet. (She has presented briefer, one-off versions at venues like Joe’s Pub in the past.) The show is a series of songs — from high-octane punk anthems to mournful ballads to an improvised jam that allows both musicians and audience to work out some rage — interspersed with stories from Oh’s life, each one corresponding to a different piece of her lingerie, all of which she models bravely. Though Oh is undoubtedly her own singular stage presence, her glam-cabaret sensibilities are already seeing her compared to the likes of Taylor Mac. She’s got the charisma and the commitment for her Dope North Star to go supernova, and right now, it doesn’t take a $600 ticket to jump into the radical, sparkly, hard-rocking {my lingerie play} experience.

Rattlestick Playwrights Theater is a kind of Velveteen Rabbit of a performance venue — small and a little shabby from lots of use and lots of love — and Oh’s squad has transformed it into a low-budget, high-glitz punk rock protest palace. Silver streamers cover the walls, matching silver spandex wraps every seat in the audience. There are confetti canons and bubble wands and even, as you enter the space, a nook labeled “SHIMMER STATION,” where you can add a little glitter and glam to your own getup before you take your seat.

When you enter, you’ll see Oh standing on a literal soapbox — a central feature from each of the {my lingerie play} installations. Here, she’s wearing dark sunglasses and a red silk robe and holding two brown-paper grocery bags. (These bags also feature in the previous installations, and the theater’s entrance corridor is adorned with them.) The bag in Oh’s right hand displays a question written in Sharpie: “WHY DO YOU CREATE A SAFER, MORE COURAGEOUS WORLD FOR US ALL TO LIVE IN?” The bag in her left has directions: Take a bag and a Sharpie and write your answer. There’s a pile at her feet.

When I attended, as I picked up my bag and sat down in my silver-spandex-covered seat to think, I looked around at my fellow audience members — all similarly bent over their bags, sincerely contemplating their answers, waiting for a party to begin in this cluttered, shimmery space. Oh knows that game New Yorkers are especially likely to embrace her show’s participatory aspects. She asks for some wild things in {my lingerie play}, but always gently — nothing is forced, and volunteers are listened to and taken care of. It’s all about communication and consent. And guess what? It’s sexy.

Back in the coffee shop, Oh tells me that in taking her installations on the road, she realized for the first time how much the city she lives in stands apart. “We are so lucky here,” she says, “We’re so liberated as New Yorkers. So in our bubble. We can get on a train and go be in an awesome room any weekend we want.” There are potential plans to burst that bubble in the near future with a {my lingerie play} Bible Belt tour, but Oh’s not worried. “I know in my bones that people need this,” she says, “Whether we get flack for it or appreciation, it’s all worth it. If we need it in New York, we need it everywhere.”

“I believe vulnerability will save us all,” Oh writes in her bio in the {my lingerie play} program. You probably will feel vulnerable at her show, and that’s a good thing. Here’s a secret: Oh feels vulnerable too. She’s up there peeling down to her underwear, telling messy true stories, and pouring her heart into her songs — all in pursuit of that safer and more courageous world. The show is a burlesque turned on its head: stripping not as titillation but as a gutsy reclamation of her own identity and sexuality. If you look out from the Rattlestick stage — from Oh’s perspective — you’ll see a cardboard banner hanging from the ceiling so that she can read it while she’s rocking out: You’ve Got This.

“You know, in 2014 when I first started this, I didn’t have to explain myself,” Oh told me. “I didn’t have to justify anything. It was all about: When was the last time I got to really listen to myself with my heart and with my body? As a queer woman of color?” (Oh is Korean-American.) “You literally have to create your own space,” she goes on, “A space of … messy … humanship! That room you came into? It’s the fucking room of my dreams. I need a no-shame room. I need complete and utter sex-positivity. I need no hierarchies, no rigidity. And I need people to feel as passionate as I do!”

It’s working. Oh’s energy is infectious. She still looks you straight in the eye, speaks fervently, listens hard, and smiles often. And when I ask her about her show’s mouthful of a title, she grins. “It’s just so funny when all these reviews come out and try to justify the title,” she muses. “They’re like, ‘It’s not a play! But! But! It doesn’t mean it’s less than a play!’ And I’m like …” she smiles sweetly and puts up both middle fingers, adding, “With as much love as I can possibly do this with!”

Then she puts her hands up to mirror the title’s brackets: “This is my truth, my own,” she says. “I can do literally anything my body wants to do — inside these funny brackets, inside the container of this piece. It’s a play if I say it’s a play. And it’s also more.” And the nine exclamation marks? “We went back and forth on that,” Oh admits, grinning again. “Some people said, ‘The nine exclamation marks are too much,’ and I was like, ‘The nine exclamation marks are where I’m at right now. 2017 is not a year of subtlety!’”

Oh leans back against her chair and looks at me. “I just don’t want to work with assholes anymore. I don’t want to make art with assholes. I don’t want to be consumed by assholes. It’s easy to keep doing it. We’re all complicit in asshole culture. But no one is fucking around here. We are trying to transcend all the conditioning that makes us smaller. Because what we need not to be is small right now.”

{my lingerie play} 2017: THE CONCERT AND CALL TO ARMS!!!!!!!!! The Final Installation is at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater through October 28. On October 28, Installation 10/10 (The FINAL Final Installation) will take place in Washington Square Park.

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Diana Oh Is a Fierce Feminist Who Rocks Out in Her Underwear