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Reviews/Theatre

An intriguing experiment

16 August 2018

Review: Renegade Productions, Unveiling: Gay Sex For Endtimes ·
The Blue Room Theatre, Perth, 14 August ·
Review by Jonathan W. Marshall ·

Renegade Productions’ Gay Sex For Endtimes is an impressively performed, mash-up sexual burlesque; one part Jodorowsky and several more New York avant-trash theatre as presented by the likes of Valerie Solanas, John Waters, and Andy Warhol’s crew at the Factory. The performers’ commitment to the work is unflaggingly intense and – in between all the eggs, dildos, S&M scenes and self-exposing monologues – the production gives the three devisor-performers quite a work out. As a piece of virtuoso scrabbled-together performance, it is a triumph. The internal logic of the work is, however, less apparent.

This is partly intentional, since artists Andrew Sutherland, Jacinta Larcombe and Michelle Aitken are aiming at a clash of concepts, ideas and references. We leap from the language of religious Apocalypse, through to a long and hard stream of double-entrendres for anal sex. Even so, the mix-master approach here, and the structure of the work as a series of parallel lines that do not really cohere, produces a piece which is about as messily omni-directional as the faux human bodily fluids repeatedly poured onto the hapless Sutherland. The strength of the work, therefore, lies in the unwavering performative focus, rather than the script or themes.

Unveiling: gay sex for endtimes
Even the locust (Michelle Aitken) has its moment to spill all. Photo: Marshall Stay.

Director Joe Lui and designer Mia Holton project key phrases from the account of Biblical Endtimes offered in the Book of Revelations at the start of most of the vignettes. This also provides one of the piece’s more absorbing protagonists, namely the locust woman. Aitken appears in this role, naked but for a stylish black coat and a rubber locust mask, and repeatedly reminds all involved that they are abominations before, at least, the unreformed God of the early Christian Church.

Sutherland is our naked sexual naïf, variously led by the female performers into states of abjection and submission, which he largely accepts with a wide-eyed sense of revelation and generosity. Larcombe moves between playing Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, evoking the famous actress Judy Garland, and expressing her own desires and traumas, including a particularly impressive screamed section in which she recounts experiences of harassment and denigration from straight men. We are also treated to an extended skit about the Navy attempting to root out from its midst the “Friends of Dorothy” (gay men, for those who haven’t heard this term), a spoof on the film Aliens, and Allen Ginsberg’s famous chanted designation of “Holy! Holy! Holy!” for penises, assholes, banal objects and the people who cherish them (from Ginsberg’s Footnote to Howl). It is a heady mix.

The piece opens with a conversation in which a man struggles with a possible diagnosis as HIV positive. This scene is played out later. The framing of the rest of the performance with this specific conversation suggests that the “Endtimes” that follow might be seen as a metaphor for a frightening but potentially liberatory space for gay men and queer sensibilities. This is how Kushner used a very similar motif for Angels in America. Unlike Kushner though, this only emerges sporadically in Unveiling, and seems to be dropped as fluids and muck accumulate on stage. This framing also suggests that the whole thing might be some kind of perverse dream of a troubled young man — which may account for the idea being jettisoned as the play continues. “He woke up and it was all a dream,” is both a bit lame, and not what seems intended here. Rather the artists’ aim appears to be to manifest something genuinely upbeat; a temporary queer utopia on stage. This is, of course, somewhat undercut by howls of rage against harassment and piteous unrequited calls for sex, so the trajectory is uneven. Dark times are admitted, but are largely followed up with a warm glow.

Unveiling does not, therefore, really produce such a utopia, and it probably cannot given the very real discomforts that the cast relate. But the attempt to negotiate such an imagined realm is mostly fascinating to watch. I would still suggest that an editor should lovingly whip this piece into shape, caress some of its sweet spots with a razor, and consider more thoroughly some of the reasons for the inclusion of material. The Navy sequence is one of the funniest in the piece, but it has the least to do with the rest of the content. Sutherland is briefly positioned as St Sebastian, but it is not clear how he resembles the martyr beyond being naked and attractive. In the end, the really outstanding sequences in this production are the monologues, delivered through microphones to give them a special intimacy, allowing each character their moment to spill all—even the locust!

Unveiling is not quite a neo-Dada piece or a queer King Ubu for our times (though at times it aspires to be both). It is unlikely to shock contemporary audiences. It is, nevertheless, a unique and intriguingly ramshackle theatrical experiment performed by a cast with great devotion to the work. Together with the work of the (rather more refined) Moira Finucane, Azaria Universe and others, Renegade Productions continues to plough the ripe fields left open by Divine, Candy Darling, and other pioneers of joyously trashy queer cabaret.

‘Unveiling: Gay Sex for Endtimes’ plays the Blue Room Theatre until August 25.

Photos: Marshall Stay.

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Author —
Jonathan W. Marshall

Jonathan W. Marshall is associate professor and postgraduate coordinator at WAAPA, Edith Cowan University. Jonathan has written for RealTime Australia, Big Issue, The Age, Theatreview NZ, IN Press, and presented on radio, since 1992. He grew up beside the Yarra River, near a long metal slide, set into the side of a rocky slope.

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