Friday night: Elysium for the Drag King’s Birthday Party. From what I understand The Drag Kings are a collective of troupes who perform “gender-related subjects in the spirit of non-conformity” (stolen from the Kings and Things website). If I’m wrong, please someone correct me. I came with my dear friend and neighbor in search of “ta-tas.” After a long and emotional day she was in desperate need of a “pick-me-up.” I was happy to go along for the ride. Elysium is a sweaty, smoky club populated on this particular night by an eclectic mix. At least it seems that way until your eyes adjust in the darkness. The performers weren’t the only ones exploring gender in the “spirit of non-conformity.” A slender woman with medium length brown hair held tightly by what at first glance appears to be a heavy set man in low sitting jeans and short sleeve flannel, short buzzed hair and hoop earrings. Mistakenly, it was another woman in the tight bear hug, kissing her in between every song. There is another couple of identical image and posture to my right, left and right/left (that would be the spot in between couples one and two). I’m taken by the strength of the embrace and its duration (the entire show) from all of them. It’s intimate and charged. On stage two MCs dressed in vests and pants complete with thin mustache and creative facial hair announce each piece. They are a little bit raunchy (increasingly so as the night went on), a little bit comic, and a whole lot of wit and personality. As was the show. The numbers ranged from the hilarious to the dark, the most effective ones hitting a darkly comic balance that was a combination of social commentary, humor, and sex appeal. There were a few bad-lip-synch-sort-of-karaoke-overall-wtf? pieces but most were well rehearsed, clever, and beautifully executed.
A brilliant performance of Courtney Love’s Celebrity Skin featured a pregnant woman in full make-up, her doctor, camcorder happy husband, and a whole lot of attitude. A surreal piece on addiction was affecting despite the awkwardness of lip-synching with conviction. There is something about pretend belting out lyrics that evokes the melodrama of adolescence suffered alone in your bedroom (although I suspect if you were alone you would actually be singing—I know I was) and is hard to take seriously. In this piece addiction came in the form of a black shadow (well costumed and legitimately haunting), beer being poured over addict’s head and pills flying everywhere. Then there was the stabbing. I would have laughed if it wasn’t for the power of the performer, D.D. Cummings**, and his sheer magnetism on stage. He did another serious piece that explored themes of pain and I would love to see what he could do with a live band or minus the lip synching. He is a forceful performer with a keen sense of composition and delivery. A number that suffered from a lack of composition or clear delivery was performed to the song, “War: What is it good for?” The audience is meant to sing the answer, “Absolutely nothing.” It’s by Edwin Starr. An armed soldier sang and jumped around the stage wildly, sometimes singing, sometimes not. The lights simulated an attack to which she fired back. The concept was interesting enough but lacked a sense of focus and direction. It didn’t work and the needed participants quickly lost momentum to keep up the chorus. Some got by on just song choice alone like the infectiously fun, “Popular” from Wicked. It begins with the line, “Whenever I see someone less fortunate than I…” and from there embarks on a mock makeover mission by one chick of another. The number is obvious but fun and mostly you are too busy singing along to care.
The audience was as much a part of the night as the performers were and the line to the woman’s restroom (the longest I’ve ever experienced on a night out) was one of the most entertaining places to be. Nipples, specifically, became the source of entertainment while I waited as a woman exclaimed to another—you could hurt someone with those! She then proceeded to find out how much they would actually “hurt” and we were all invited to do so.
Back outside, one MC tells the audience, (I paraphrase) “I don’t care what you do, who you do, or how you do it if you are here you are queer.” I don’t know about that but I’m glad to be queer for the night. Catch them the next time they do a show. You won’t be disappointed.
**Please forgive any mistakes made in reference to individual troupes and I apologize for not having individual performer’s names, they deserve the recognition.