Claywoman is withered and weathered, like something literally molded from clay and, by degrees, dried out. She’s the 500-million-year-old extra-terrestrial performance persona of the actor Michael Cavadias, andreappears every-so-often in public to much niche buzz. Last week, in the cabaret backroom at Pangea, she hosted an unscripted conversation with comedian Bridget Everett, which ranged and rambled from menopause to climate change.
The makeup accounts for much of the initial shock of encountering Claywoman, but it is by no means all that is bizarre about her. She wears layers of tattered, earth-brown fabric. She speaks in a strange, high-pitched lilt, and she moves with insane slowness—Pangea’s layout required Cavadias to cross an entire Italian restaurant in full costume and character just to get onstage, which meant some confused, pasta-eating people in the front were treated to a drawn-out, unexplained, alien trudge.
Cavadis has been with this character on and off at least since 2009, when he made The Mystery of Claywoman, a mockumentary about a strange being traveling the universe “searching for souls to heal and planets to save.” He’s brought her back in various formats over the years—live shows, lectures, Q&As, short films with celebrity guest appearances—which has garnered her a cult-like following. At Pangea, people packed into the small space to see her, and all were seemingly game: when she asked her audience to follow along in some wacky guided meditation, it was hard to spot anyone opting out, or looking uncomfortable. The laughs came often, and easily.
Conversationally, Claywoman brings things together with whiplash-inducing stream-of-consciousness. There was her specifically non-sexual friendship with Jesus; her musical visits with the dinosaurs (who, by the way, had nice singing voices, and a sound not unlike the Mamas and the Papas); and her predilection for dissociation during space travel. And about everything happening directly in front of her, she speaks with delightful, weird observance. “I like water,” she said at one point, taking a thoughtful sip from her glass, “because it doesn’t remind me of anything!” Cavadias created a character who has witnessed large swaths of the universe flourish and die, one who will (probably) be here long after humanity’s corner of existence has gone dark, too. And she’s still quite invested in the little things.
What’s nice about Claywoman is the consistent perspective she brings to human minutiae. She seems to know it’s all less than consequential, and yet worth spending thoughtful time with (she could, of course, be literally anywhere else in the universe). Having been around the proverbial and celestial block, her message often sounds like take your time. Taste your water. Don’t get too hung up on the passing stuff. John Cameron Mitchell, who was in the audience at Pangea, asked Claywoman if she was following the impeachment proceedings. She said yes, with a slow sigh, but added a caveat: she’s noticed, over the millenia, that our kind is prone to political turmoil, so she’s not following this thing too closely. It’s merely a flare-up.
That Claywoman is very concerned about climate change, on the other hand, is formidable. Nothing can be more than moderately urgent to an ancient or possibly immortal space being, but greenhouse gas emissions are grave enough that she’s moved to reappear, every once in a while, to talk to us about them. “We’re all specks of consciousness, wanting to sit here together!” she pointed out with enthusiasm, as evidence of what’s great about Earth; planets like this one don’t come around terribly often, as Claywoman can and does attest. Sitting in her presence can be quite a silly experience, but it’s also genuinely nice to be reminded that things down here are amazing, worth protecting.
“I’ll be back in a month,” she promised her followers at the evening’s close. She left them with a joke, though an affectingly partial one: “That is, if your planet’s still here.”