Even if she wasn’t literally soaking in bubbles, Siobhan O’Loughlin would have an involving story to tell about how a bike accident wrecked her left hand and left her feeling vulnerable.
But the tub is the thing in “Broken Bone Bathtub,” a fun, entertaining and evocative touring show the performance artist from New York is bringing to bathrooms in private homes across the Bay Area this month. (Upon ticket purchase, patrons are provided the location.)
She opened over the weekend in a cool, art-filled Oakland apartment.
First, from the living room, local producer Elaine Blank shared rules (including no photography or heckling), then invited 10 patrons into the nice-sized bathroom; we were seated close together on stools or low chairs, more or less on the same level as Siobhan, who was submerged in suds.
Her hair was up, her head was down in the crook of her arm, and then she looked up, and began to tell her tale.
She talked about her life, simultaneously sharing memories and details of what happened on the rainy day she collided with another female bicyclist, and how she came to have the decoratively adorned cast that was on her left forearm.
That arm, her wide-eyed, friendly face (which had sparkles on it) and her shoulders were the only parts of her body we in the audience could see in this one-of-a-kind performance that sometimes felt like a group encounter — in a good way.
Because as Siobhan, an activist who composts, described events leading to the accident (she was on her way to an anti-fracking meeting and feeling at a loss over the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner at the hands of police), she masterfully engaged her listeners. She was amusing and profound.
She started easy, first asking folks in the audience about their cycling histories. (One woman had ridden across the Golden Gate Bridge naked; several others had been in bike accidents.)
By the end of the hour, she had taken the conversation to particularly personal levels.
After revealing that she was jealous that the other woman in the accident had her boyfriend there to comfort her, while she was assisted by a compassionate stranger named Emily, Siobhan got her listeners to briefly open up about times they have felt lonely or down.
It was heartening, and anything but lurid. (Opening night had three men and seven women in the audience; Siobhan said she has done the show with an audience of men in Ireland.)
At points, it was literally touching: She had one person scrub her back, another wash her hair and another massage her hand.
In the end, “Broken Bone Bathtub” — which O’Laughlin created after her real-life experience of “borrowing” her friends’ tubs to help her heal after the accident — reveals the power of empathy.
Broken Bone Bathtub
When: 7 and/or 9 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, 2 and 4 p.m. Sundays
Where: July 12 in Livermore; July 13 and July 15 in S.F. (Excelsior); July 16 in S.F. (Glen Park); July 20-21 in S.F. (Lower Haight); July 22 in Mountain View; July 24 in San Rafael
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