That's what Janice Perry concludes in Holy Sh*t! Stories of Heaven and Hell, which she's telling this Friday and Saturday at the University of Kansas' Labor Day Festival in Lawrence.
Perry describes Holy Sh*t! as a text-based, satirical, physical comedy that defuses audience anxieties about morally complex topics. "For example," she says, "the evolution brouhaha here in Kansas; the uneasy coexistence of both exploitation of and demonization of sexuality; the marriage of church and state in the U.S.; gun control; the origins of western religious beliefs; the deification of pop cultural heroes; the fighting of religious wars for personal gain."
It's serious material, which is why Perry calls it a satire -- because what is satire if not the dark side of comedy? Critics have called Perry's mix of standup, opera, and vaudeville "an ecstatic cross between Doris Day and a high-velocity rifle." A performance based on western religious traditions might not sound all that funny, but Perry assures that it is.
"My work is extremely visual and physical, with silly costumes, wild gestures, and lots of voice work," she says. "I satirize and deconstruct various mythic figures and modern heroes, analyzing the themes presented in their stories." From there, Perry reinvents the characters and exploits their faults tenfold, turning the tables on sexism, racism, homophobia, whatever. She doesn't overlook the serious side of oppression but rather drains it of its power through her humor.
Within Holy Sh*t! are stories about female saints and historical female figures who, Perry says, all seem to have been persecuted for the same reason: being inaccessible to men. Like Benedetta Carlini, a nun in Renaissance Italy "who claimed to be an incarnation of an angel and was later incarcerated for 35 years for the crime of 'immodest acts' (having sex with another nun)."
Perry's way of getting her message across is a barrage of ideas laid out on a brightly colored tablecloth and force-fed through every stage medium possible. "I have always found it profoundly disturbing and incomprehensible that our societies are still driven by fears which result in the suppression of self and others and that in many countries, including (or perhaps especially) our own, it is still deemed necessary to curb artistic and spiritual expression," she says. "Denial of equal rights and opportunities to fellow humans is so pervasive that it often goes unquestioned by the public."
But Perry is questioning.