Ring leaders

Taking down the patriarchy with wrestling theater

Half the cast of PUMA strikes a pose.

Half the cast of PUMA strikes a pose.

Photo by Joey Moshiri

PUMA: Pussies Under Massive Attack shows Friday and Saturday, Sept. 21-22, 7:30 p.m.
Show is sold out, but you can sign up for a waiting list for potential last-minute additional seating.
Tickets: $25
Blue RoomTheatre
139 W. First St.

Millennial Menace has The Biz cornered in the wrestling ring, landing blow by blow against her jawline.

“This is for those animals you tested your beauty products on!” Menace (actress Blake Ellis) yells, punching The Biz (Julia Rauter). She continues, crying out against the injustices of the gentrification of her neighborhood and body-shaming.

As the match progresses, Menace hoists The Biz into the air and slams her onto the mat on the floor, her passion exploding in a fit of rage.

“And this is for cracking my iPhone screen!”

While The Biz is down, the Menace wraps an arm around her, poses triumphantly and snaps a selfie. “It’s the Selfie Sleeperhold!” a cast member quips.

The Biz isn’t knocked down for long. She gets back on her feet, jerks Menace’s legs into the air and shouts, “I’ve always wanted to break a poor person’s legs!”

The Chico News & Review caught this sneak peek of PUMA: Pussies Under Massive Attack—an original production by seasoned local playwright/actress Hilary Tellesen—during a recent rehearsal at 7th Street Centre for the Arts.

The wrestling-themed production opens Friday, Sept. 21, at the Blue Room Theatre, and it promises to be an energetic, hilarious extravaganza. There’s also some potentially profound depth to the central concept of four matches—featuring 22 totally badass women (plus four pretty cool dudes)—that also serve as metaphors for the triumphs and failures of the first four decades of a woman’s life.

The routine above, for example, pits Hot Flash (Natalie Valencia), Denim Dazzler (Heather Ellison, aka Uni and Her Ukelele), Millennial Menace and The Biz against one another in a battle to break the glass ceiling. It includes impressive prop work with a ladder, used by several of the actresses to smash into their competitors, whomp them in the head and launch them across a real ring.

Showgoers can expect plenty of audience interaction as well, with a vibrant cast of characters that also includes Coach Patrick Archy (Betty Burns), announcers (two Joeys—Moshiri and Haney) and the She-Ref (Sherri Quammen).

Tellesen says creating PUMA has been like “writing a vaudeville act.”

“There’s no real form, so we’ve been finding it,” she said, and the process has been collaborative from start to finish. The year-long endeavor started Sept. 21, 2017, on Tellesen’s 39th birthday. She organized a planning party for PUMA inspired by her impending 40th (opening night).

She got together with some fellow thespians and other friends and screened the documentary GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling—projected onto a bedsheet hung in her backyard—and the brainstorming began.

Why wrestling? Tellesen, and many of her castmates, had no prior connection to the sport, and learned how to wrestle for PUMA, thanks to the instruction of Moshiri, an actor/professional wrestler.

“You can look at getting older as a [more powerful] way of being stronger in yourself,” Tellesen said. “You can be 40 and try wrestling for the first time.”

It certainly has been fun challenging herself to be physically aggressive, she continued, but she is also motivated by a strong desire to “undress the fear of aging,” as she put it on the gofundme campaign page on which she raised $2,005 for set-building materials. Adding to the power of that notion is the fact that Tellesen recruited her 17-year-old daughter, Marie, for the show. The pair square off in a match that addresses the relationship between beauty and growing older.

One of Tellesen’s aims with this play is to show that all women possess an inherent beauty, no matter if they are young or old, fat or thin or feel they may be failing or succeeding, and that is always “something to enjoy and celebrate.”