I enter a waiting room full of beautiful exquisite hip dressed men. There is a smattering of New York cool. Girls I’d never dare to say “Hello” to as “Hello” seems too mundane. There is a gay culture, an arts culture, I am an outsider too. A small poorly dressed hair falling out Chinese looking Brit. I am here to watch Dickie Beau Blackouts: Twilight of the Idols.
My dress sense is consistently forward. It almost never fits. Curiously awkwardly off-centre.
I am not unwelcome. And as Andrew Solomon has helped me understand, this horizontal identity amongst the LBGT is to be cherished perhaps how I cherish the autistic experience.
Still. How I ache to be a beautiful man amongst beautiful men, confident in my beauty. It is not to be.
There is a cabaret tradition. There is a lip synch tradition. There is a physical drag tradition. That sits squarely in this culture.
It crosses geographies. The lip synching lady-boys of Thailand impressed me over 30 years ago, another half world away. Funny, poignant, sharp - it echoes from a 7 year old mind to a middle aged man.
There are other roots. The female icons of Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe. The verbatim tradition (no intentional reference, I don’t sense, to Charles Reznikoff in poetry or My name is Rachel Corrie in theatre) but ringing to my ears, sensitive to the found work of the visual artists and sculptors (Du Champ to Andre to Rauschenberg) and the verbatim work in theatre.
In the jittery walks, and white painted face, I even have a sense of Noh and a nod to Jacques Lecoq and the clowns. The tragic clowns.
All this swirls in my mind, as I walk into a theatre I have never seen, with a beautiful people I am not part of, in a city which is not mine.
The box office desk declares: “You have a cushion seat.” “What’s that?” “You will see.” I hardly know any thing in any case, another unknown hardly weighs a feather.
And why does everyone have such exquisite shoes? Somehow unique but hip. Proclaiming, I am full of character yet mysterious and delightful. Huh. Maybe, I have to buy more than one pair of shoes every 12 months.
We are ushered backstage. I do not fully appreciate this, never having been to this theatre. The back may as well be the front. But it does at the end of the performance provide one of the most dramatic theatrical reveals of place, that I have experienced. Perhaps, better for not knowing where I am or what I am doing.
I take a cushion seat. Between a beautiful man, and a beautiful woman. Of course. Here my tiny threads to Gideon Lester and Coney save me and place me. Next to a producer:
-Gideon taught me dramaturgy 20 years ago.
-Gideon’s husband taught me dramaturgy. (Artistole links us) I know Coney. I’m interested in their work.
And I know Under the Radar, and I don’t feel quite so strange.
The performance starts.
Dickie Beau has an astonishing visceral physicality. It is mercurial as it shifts character so smoothly. Yet very present, and barely surpasses as if an inner spirit could break out at any time. This is heightened by the lip-synch technique. It seems to channel the spirit of the original words through the physicality of Beau.
If you look at Francis Bacon’s work and read his conversations with David Sylvester (and in Brutality of Fact), you can sense that through his paintings, Bacon - when successful (and he destroyed so much of his work) - comes closer to the truth by transforming surface reality into something deeper that hits at a visceral essence while bypassing the exact surface portrayal.
At its best, Beau hits these notes where although he is a man with a painted white face, his transformed physicality lip-synched to an ethereal verbatim voice bypasses the surface qualities and engages a deeper visceral sense of being.
This is at times funny, awkward, painful, poignant and never less than astonishing. The transformations seen in real time are beguiling and extraordinary. I party wished that some of the seamless theatrical blackout-type transitions did not occur, so I could always watch the real transformation of Beau as they occurred in front of me.
The characters portrayed are icons. Are gay icons. They are also lost and damaged goods. They are impossible to figure out truthfully. I liked that.
Nevertheless, I did overhear some audience be lost over the lack of narrative thread.
I doubt you can have a classic narrative and achieve the same mercurial, visceral yet true effects. Perhaps.
On the work itself, the central parts are recordings Dickie Beau took of his conversations with Richard Meryman, the last journalist to have interviewed Marilyn Monroe before her death. This is framework with additional archival recordings from Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe. Some of the recordings, I think Beau may have had almost unique access to.
There were clever touches of light and direction. Sound most obviously used astutely. But also, a scrim, for light and lighted-word effects, a spotlight on words and a type writer; splashes of red evoking slippers and Judy Garland; a heart stopping piece of theatre as a paper-scroll-noodle is regurgitated in a splayed splintered jerky fashion from Beau’s mouth for what seems a small eternity; a knife wielded, teetering on the edge of violence.
Then the end. Where Beau faces the auditorium, finally revealed. It strikes you that you are back stage, an interloper and a voyeur. Privy to a dark secret. Yet, the whole auditorium, the fantasy audience faces Beau, faces you as we fade to the sounds of the imaginary audience clapping.
Here more from Beau in this interview below. It also gives a better sense of his work, where I have only given the impressions it has left on me.