If you’ve ever endured Mondo New York, the cult classic 1988 video tour of the city’s vitriolic, sometimes sophomoric, downtown performance-art scene, you know that Gotham’s nether regions were once a Grand Guignol of voodoo magicians and painted bedlamites decrying the wounds of abjection and rocketing rents. Those perfunctorily documented dog days, well before gender-bending torch singer Joey Arias became a ringmaster at Cirque de Soleil and Ann Magnuson an actress of some repute on the television series Anything but Love, drew thousands to New York—and probably drove an equal number away.
Though those rocketing rents have since forced many artists from the city, and quality of life is now reflected by one’s proximity to a Whole Foods, it seems that some traditions persist, a fact proved again last Friday when I slouched toward SoHo to watch “Live Patriot Acts 2: Alien Nation—An Immigration Odyssey,” a variety show and fund raiser at Here Arts Center promoting virtuosic troubadour Taylor Mac’s forthcoming full-length performance The Young Ladies of. Mac’s one of those rare, unplaceable talents: part Jack Smith, part Diamanda Galas, with perhaps a twinge of antic club kid Michael Alig (dismembered bodies and all). His face made up with paint and glitter into a shard of gaudy thrift-store faience, he effortlessly assumed the role of ringmaster for this, his zany circus of lost boys and girls.
Minutes after midnight, “female female impersonator” World Famous BOB mounted the stage to kick off the show. She vivaciously mimed a series of air-traffic-control signs—naked—to Richard Strauss’s Thus Spake Zarathustra (also known as the title song for 2001: A Space Odyssey). “You know, her breasts weigh twenty pounds!” noted an enthusiastic middle-aged woman to my right. Mac took the stage next, performing a sweet three-minute waltz about Arizona’s minutemen on a ukulele. (“They loiter on the border with their mortar to stop the Mexicans . . .”) Slipping effortlessly between tender storytelling and plangent histrionics, Mac elaborated the evening’s theme: Everyone’s work would focus on immigration—even if it didn’t. “They’re all wonderful and socially active people, but some of them don’t read.”
“Boy-lesque” performer Tigger was up next, marching onstage in a Flash Gordon jumpsuit, sporting enough makeup to make a prostitute blush. He did a surreal striptease to Klaus Nomi’s rendition of Henry Purcell’s baroque classic “The Cold Song.” So far, the evening’s sound track could have been pulled from my grandmother’s record stack. That changed quickly, however, as a now-svelte Scotty the Blue Bunny ran up to do a rap about . . . being a seven-foot-tall gay man in a bunny suit. “Are you the bunny? You’re not the bunny. There’s only one-y. Scotty . . . the Blue . . . Bunny.” It’d be a disservice to reprint the rest of the lyrics here—it’s an experience best served live.
More acts followed, including another—more savage—disrobing by trannie performer Glenn Marla (“Men are from Mars, women from Venus, gays are from Uranus . . . we don’t know where Glenn Marla’s from”) and an “Alien Fashion Show” by Machine Dazzle. It was like the Ziegfeld Follies for the performance arte povera. Not all of it was good, mind you, but that seemed beside the point—such bourgeois delusions as taste having been checked at the door along with BOB and Tigger’s clothes—and it certainly didn’t stop anyone from having fun.
As the evening’s end drew nigh, Mac returned to the stage to admonish those who move to New York expecting to find the same comforts they had at home. “We should establish once and for all that the official first language of New York City is liberal kook.” A sea of wigged heads nodded in agreement. “I believe in preaching to the choir,” he added. “Sometimes the choir needs inspiration.”