Shame in My Body

Issue Seven: Teeth
Chalia La Tour
March 28, 2024
Chalia La Tour

Chalia La Tour is a 2020 Tony Award nominee for Best Featured Actress in a Play for Slave Play. Theatre credits include: Slave Play (original Broadway cast), Cadillac Crew by Tori Sampson (Yale Repertory Theatre), The Review or How to Eat Your Opposition by DonneFa Lavinia Grays (Women's Theatre Project). TV Credits include: The Good Fight, The Code and Elementary on CBS. Film credits include: The Future is Bright, The  Year Between and Mother Melancholia. DirecOng credits include: Faster Than a Blink  (Portland Center Stage JAW), BARRELHOUSE: A Western Southern Gothic Experience (Theatre of Others), asst. for The Brothers Size (Oklahoma City Rep). The Future is Bright screened at the inaugural African American Smithsonian Film Festival. She maintains a commitment to storytelling that asks the questions of humanity with the fullness of humanity. She is a leader of Encompass Collective, a training organization for Global Majority (BIPOC) artists. La Tour received an MFA in Acting from the Yale  School of Drama. She is also a graduate of the British American Dramatic Academy Summer in Oxford program. Theatrical Technical Design from CSU East Bay. Instagram: @chalialatour

Whenever I see Michael R. Jackson on a showbill, I buzz with anticipation knowing that my internal freak flag is about to be engaged as an access point to delve into human questions. And that flag is not only freaky because it’s sexy, but also because it explores the parts of humanity that aren’t always welcomed in spaces of various dominating cultures.  

Now, backstory on my P.O.V. coming into this response to Playwrights Horizons’ new musical Teeth: I am (among many other things) a sex-positive Black woman storyteller who spent part of her high school years in a Pentecostal youth theater troupe called “Project Millennium” that toured the west coast as an evangelical mission. Yep, so, when asked to give my take on this production, I was all in.  

Although the production itself has a clear narrative build, moving from a stereotypical, white suburban Christian church into a genre-filled feminine uprising, I will not follow suit in any linear way. Instead, enjoy some musings (and images) I had while experiencing Teeth:  


Teeth opens with a sermon by a Christian youth pastor à la Tony Robbins, played deliciously by Steven Pasquale. The musical nails much of the absolute cringe of the Y2K youth pastor and their congregation. The whole thing’s a seduction of sorts, and nothing is sexier than God or going against God. Purity culture makes girls a prize and a forbidden point of temptation. Being in a Christian youth congregation is like always getting close to release without actually getting there (a kind of adult-supervised edging).


Teeth made me think about womanhood and how girls relate to each other, especially in youth Christian spaces. You’re told that a girl’s job isn’t to feel good, but to be good. You hear Eve’s story in the Book of Genesis and there’s something in you that holds the downfall of man. You are programmed to believe girls are descended from the original sinner and are inherently bad. With these kinds of teachings, how could girls not believe they are monsters?

In Teeth, we follow Dawn O’Keefe (Alyse Alan Louis), a teenager who we later learn lives with Vagina Dentata. Dawn leads Pastor’s purity church group, the Prayer Keeper Girls (PKGs for short). Watching the play made me think of the policing within sisterhoods, particularly how a gang-like mentality in Christian congregations with its rules and hierarchy can lead to betrayal. There are power dynamics to this purity sisterhood. You have the power to decide who belongs and who is the whore. The whores get discarded and must fend for themselves.

When on tour with “Project Millennium,” the sisterhood once shunned a girl for weeks, acting like she was a whore because another boy had a crush on her, and her pastor-to-be boyfriend threatened to hit her thinking she was cheating on him. After I supported this shunned girl, the rest of the sisterhood reminded us that they were still our sisters. “You’re not my sister,” I said and slept on the tour bus to the next town.

There’s a nuance in how these women interact with each other that I wish the play explored more. So much of the musical’s book (co-written by Anna K. Jacobs) delves into the relationship between Dawn and men, but I craved more space to discuss her relationships with her so-called sisters.

While Teeth’s PKGs are diverse, that only goes so far in creating a welcoming space, a choice that seems appropriate for a white-led, suburban Christian church. There’s a specificity there that helps shape this story’s view on feminine rage, sexual repression, and liberation. I always feel a kind of way when a white, blonde woman leads a rage-filled, feminine uprising. For a moment, it’s exciting and euphoric, but as a Black woman, I’m also seeing the beginning of another cycle of oppressive power. It’s something to be cautious of and rarely a sign of liberation for all. As Angela Davis writes about the women’s suffrage movement in Women, Race and Class:

After the [Equal Rights] Association voted to support the Fifteenth Amendment—which prohibited the use of race, color, or previous condition of servitude as a basis for denying citizens the right to vote—the internal friction erupted into open and strident ideological struggle. As Eleanor Flexner put it: (Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s) indignation and that of Miss Anthony knew no bounds. The latter made the pledge that ‘I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work for or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman.’

‘Woman’ was the test, but not every woman seemed to qualify. Black women, of course, were virtually invisible within the protracted campaign for woman suffrage.


Teeth and the myth of the Dentata hinge on the belief that gender is differentiated by genitals. While Dawn’s journey is a white feminist uprising, I kept thinking of how nonbinary and trans experiences are left out of this conversation concerning purity culture altogether. In stories like this, a penis is inherently the nexus of harm. Is ridding the world of penises going to save cis women? Or that a weapon-equipped vagina stands as the ultimate form of protection in this cis-gendered conversation?


Not a single man in this play understands consent. There is not a single man who trusts a woman as a human with autonomy. Gay misogyny gets examined too.

There’s a sharp pain that tears through your brain when there’s an assault onstage. When Dawn encounters her first sexual assault and Dentata meets violence with violence, my first thought was, “Thank God she had teeth.” Then, as an S.A. survivor myself, how I wished there had been a failsafe for protection inside my body to override the confusion, fear, and shock. One of my favorite parts of Jackson and Jacobs’ book is how clearly Dawn expresses that what is happening is not consensual. We hear clear “Nos,” expressions of displeasure, and attempts to redirect while she tries to figure out what she is feeling. The vagina, however, knows consent has not been given even before Dawn is fully aware.


Why is sex so funny in a crowd? Do we laugh to make sure we signal that we aren’t engaging with our own or anyone else’s sexuality? Is it comradery? What’s funny?

Jackson’s lyrics are thrilling because they cut straight to the meaning of the thing without making a metaphor of it. And that’s incredibly exciting and liberating when speaking about sex and shame within purity culture.

Direction: So many moving parts and done with a lot of finesse by Sarah Benson. The lake scene was directed to perfection.  

The thrill of genre not just in cult film, but also in Christian storytelling.


There’s a blood splash zone.

As Dawn, Alyse Alan Louis transforms from Mandy Moore to Joan Jett over two hours.

Dawn is fucking rockstar pussy.

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