Marga Gomez says she always appreciates serious performance pieces that dive into identity issues and social struggles.
However, the comedian sees her own productions—including her latest, Swimming With Lesbians (Fri/6-Sun/22) at Brava Cabaret—as a sometimes necessary counterpoint to the weighty auto-dramas.
“This show is a queer escape,” she says. “It’s a fantasy… My only intention is to make people of all backgrounds have a great time at a solo play. Laughter is medicine.”
Written and performed by Gomez, the comedian’s 14th one-person show is a 65-minute farce set aboard a lesbian cruise ship called “The Celesbian,” packed with wacky queer characters drowning in intrigue.
Inspired by her fondness for The Poseidon Adventure and Sponge Bob and her own experiences as a cruise ship entertainer, Swimming With Lesbians promises oodles of wild adventure, lusty passion, and all-you-can-eat buffets.
I caught up with the comic about creating sweet escapes for her audiences, why it was all hands on deck for her new production, and the one scene in the show guaranteed to rock the boat.
48 HILLS How has your approach to creating and presenting shows like this evolved over the years?
MARGA GOMEZ I have always tried to not repeat myself and to take risks. Now that opening theaters is still a big deal, my approach is pretty specific. There’s so much stress, so my audiences want to laugh their asses off at openhearted, raunchy stories. I know I do.
48 HILLS Tell me about this eight-character queer romp.
MARGA GOMEZ This may sound a little like Gilligan’s Island, but I play eight characters in Swimming with Lesbians. They are on a cruise to the island of Lesvos aboard a ship called “The Celesbian.” The story is narrated by Isabelle, from Chico, who is on the ship to recover from a lacrosse injury. Isabelle is hot for Captain Debbie, who has slept with much of her staff, including the Celesbian Bingo caller, Pru Perez.
Pru loves her job but spends her days at sea in hiding because Arlene, her bully from boarding school, has booked passage. Those are the main characters. But I also play Aurora, the ship astrologer, DJ Dykey Dyke from Northhampton, and lady lushes Jan and Babs, who meet cute in the ship elevator.
48 HILLS How did the show come together?
MARGA GOMEZ I keep a list of story ideas. A lesbian cruise ship was always near the top. Bruce Pachtrman, who ran a solo performance showcase, asked me to do 15 minutes of a new piece this past January. I thought it would be fun to create the funny world of a fictional lesbian cruise ship.
I also had been stewing for years over a bully I had when I was 19. This bitch showed up at a show of mine just before the pandemic like we were old friends, and instead of calling her out, I was polite. My one chance to make her pay, and I wimped out. I thought I would exact revenge comically in Swimming With Lesbians. I worked with two people on story building—Jackie Marchand and David Schweizer, and one of them asked me why the bully did these things. Not to give anything away, but this question led me to a much better and sexier plot device.
Once the final draft was written, I began collaborations with Sara Toby Moore, a comic performance artist who works in circus arts. Their last show, Atomic Comic, at Z Space, blew me away. Toby is focusing on making eight characters distinct in voice and physicality—and that makes everything funnier.
One recent element that I expect will give the story an extra boost will be the occasional projections of original illustrations from Bay Area artist David Hawkins that are a cross between a children’s book and a vintage Playboy.
It’s been suggested I take a directing credit, but that feels like a passé term. I identify more as a member of a creative team who gets the final decision. Ha!
48 HILLS What did you experience as a cruise ship entertainer that inspired this show?
MARGA GOMEZ Perhaps I hooked up with a passenger or two and danced till 3am with the chain-smoking ship doctor. One time in Mexico, our ship crashed into the dock, and we were stuck in Cozumel for two days. I called it the “SS Pinata” after that. And the food… so much food. The midnight buffets were incredible. I gained five to 10 pounds after every cruise. But really, to be out at night looking at the stars as you sail through the Greek Islands was one of my greatest adventures.
The show is ultimately about interpersonal relationships. What do you do when you are on the same ship as your high school bully, for instance? How does an introvert pull off being a cruise director?
48 HILLS Are there any particular moments in Swimming with Lesbians that you’re extra excited for audiences to see?
MARGA GOMEZ This is the West Coast premiere of a show I have workshopped all year and finally in New York at Dixon Place last July. My creative team-member Toby Moore is the greatest clown performance artist I have ever seen. They are also queer, and—I wish I could convey how dangerous this is—we are both Geminis with the same birthday. So, thanks to Toby, my performance is very physical and big in a Poseidon Adventure meets Sponge Bob way. Without a doubt, the most exciting moment is when one of the characters experiences a female ejaculation during a Macarena party.
48 HILLS What’s next for you after Swimming With Lesbians? Do you have any upcoming projects or performances that your fans should look forward to?
MARGA GOMEZ In 2024, Swimming With Lesbians will be booked for a World Premiere in New York at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club. Once this show does well in the Bay Area, I hope to tour it to Palm Springs, naturally, and other queer hotspots. But my wildest goal is to bring it to Florida—if it’s the last thing I ever do. Ha!
48 HILLS Final question: If you could go down with the Poseidon or Titanic, which would you choose and why?
MARGA GOMEZ Kate Winslet or Shelly Winters? I’ll get back to you, hahaha!
SWIMMING WITH LESBIANS Fri/6-Sun/22, Brava Cabaret, SF. $25. More info here.