“I’m not obsessed with sex,” the unnamed narrator of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s one-woman show, Fleagbag, says early in her sixty-five minutes. “I just can’t stop thinking about it.” For this character, played by Waller-Bridge, sex is something of a numbing agent. She masturbates compulsively—”Especially when I’m bored or angry or upset. Or happy”—and picks up men to whom she appears to have little sexual attraction. The pleasure comes later, now, in the telling of the stories. Humiliating anecdote follows humiliating anecdote. We’re laughing, but in the moment many of these must have been painful, heartbreaking. But when she speaks, Phoebe-Waller is often smiling; the character is clearly enjoying the laughter she elicits.
Phoebe-Waller, then, manages quite the balancing act. In the intimate SoHo Playhouse, she rarely moves from a stool at the center of the stage, and there is a palpable sense of community, of the audience participating through its laughter, like ritual catharsis. Yet the story is one of loneliness: it involves suicide, infidelity, broken relationships, broken marriages, and broken families. Not one character is happy; few manage any sort of meaningful communication at all. But we’re laughing, and we’re laughing together, and the result is a beautiful paradox.