Women share stories of strength

Terry Byrne, Boston Herald — Friday, October 31, 1997

After listening to white men whining on Boston stages, it’s refreshing to discover two women opening solo performances next week.

Instead of self-absorbed sniffling about the battle of the sexes, Sherri Lewis and Celia Slattery use their life stories to find universal truths about survival, strength, growth and hope. While both women use original music and classic hits from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, each have strikingly different tales to tell.

Lewis’ “Life Is a Beach,” which opens at the Institute of Contemporary Art Theater on Thursday, traces her meteoric rise to pop music fame – she had a Top 40 hit with “Just So Lonely” in 1981 – and even faster fall.

“My story is really about living with HIV,” says Lewis. “But I don’t want people to think, ‘Oh, that’s a bummer.’ So I’ve taken a kind of People magazine mentality toward it. My life has been very colorful. I had my 15 minutes of fame and lost it, and in 1987 I was diagnosed HIV positive.

“I think it’s important for people to know that this can happen to anyone and we still have no cure. But rather than be a memorial to those who have died, this show celebrates those who are still living.”

Slattery’s “Moving Target,” which opens at the Little Flags Theatre in Cambridge on Nov. 7, traces her ability to navigate a path through a commitment to the anti-war movement, the challenge of being an unwed teen mom in 1972, the shifting tides of ’70s alternative lifestyles and the ridiculous jobs she took on while getting back on her feet.

“My experiences affected me deeply,” says Slattery, “but I know the scene affected a lot of people deeply. I may have an unusual story, but it’s not just about me.”

Slattery has teamed with well known director Bill Castellino (best known for directing and choreographing Garry Trudeau’s hilarious satire “RapMaster Ronnie”).