Clit Notes

The name Holly Hughes often connotes controversy. But this much-maligned performance artist is, surprisingly, a mild-mannered monologuist -- the most shocking aspect of her latest work, an amusing and often moving mix of memories and observations, is its title.

The name Holly Hughes often connotes controversy. But this much-maligned performance artist is, surprisingly, a mild-mannered monologuist — the most shocking aspect of her latest work, an amusing and often moving mix of memories and observations, is its title.

Hughes is one of four performance artists denied grants by the National Endowment for the Arts during the Bush administration because their work was considered too controversial. This is her first piece since that episode and, not unexpectedly, she gets considerable comedic mileage out of that basically farcical situation.

In the first of the evening’s four monologues (and the only one in which she plays a character other than herself), she portrays a composite of every stupid, arrogant interviewer she faced during her brief stint as a celebrity.

Here she recounts the self-righteous and often absurd criticism she received from both the right and left.

The other monologues cover traditional ground for the genre, including her strained relationship with her father and her difficult adolescence in Saginaw, Mich. These are touching tales of self-discovery, presented with wit and an appropriate tough-mindedness.

Hughes’ teenage angst was intensified by her incipient attraction to women, in a setting where homosexuality was taboo. One of the show’s most vivid segments concerns her discovery at age 13 of the book “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex,” and her dismay at the author’s absurd notions of lesbian behavior.

Hughes candidly describes lusting for her mate, which might explain the NEA officials’ discomfort. Those not threatened by such declarations, however, will be able to identify with many of Hughes’ themes, whatever one’s sexual orientation. Hughes expresses marginalization and isolation with considerable artistry.

Clit Notes

(Highways, Santa Monica; 125 seats; $ 12 top)

Production: Highways presents a performance piece written by Holly Hughes. Opened, reviewed Aug. 26, 1993. Runs through Sept. 11.

Cast: With: Holly Hughes.

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