So there’s two shows that, I think, have become audience favorites for Fusebox 2016: Bronx Gothic and Dickie Beau: Unplugged. Or, at least, that’s the result of my unscientific polling around the hub last night, as well as my own personal experience. I saw Bronx Gothic when it premiered in New York and was wowed by it. Okwui is a fantastic performer who I’d seen several times before in work with Ralph Lemon, and it was exciting to see her tackle her own work.
All of which is to say that I already knew how good Bronx Gothic was, whereas Dickie Beau was completely new to me. Afterward I wound up talking with a curator and a critic from New York who mentioned that we’d all, apparently, missed Dickie Beau as part of the last Queer New York International Arts Festival, from Croatian curator Zvonimir Dobrovic. Which makes me disappointed in myself, because his piece at Fusebox was remarkable.
The show is basically a deconstruction of the devices employed in drag performance–lip syncing, dress up, interpretation of content–but employed in a way I’ve never seen before. Beginning with a lip synced performance to an audio recording of Kenneth Williams–a British comedian whose character on Round the Horne was one of the first clearly gay characters in British media, prior to decriminalization of homosexuality–Beau goes on to offer a truly sincere explanation of what it means to claim someone else’s voice for your own.
I was really struck by the show, which deserves a stronger and more extensive write-up, but the ending was particularly affecting. Having employed the myth of Echo and Narcissus as his frame, he performs the Echo role as the closing. Whereas most drag performance is a camp imitation of celebrity, here Beau takes a found audio love letter (apparently a lost cassette tape on a train) and performs it: The ultimate nobody, in other words. And the tape is fairly banal–a love letter that begins with the humdrum then descends into passionate sexual longing and ends on an ambiguous note. Beau’s performance, far from camp, was sincere and heartfelt. A video recording of his voice box intoning the words he merely syncs onstage added a truly over-the-top note to the performance. There were precious few dry eyes in the house, and it was a wonderful example of the power of simple theatricality.