New York

Richard Elovich

Performance Space 122

In his new performance piece entitled Someone Else from Queens is Queer, 1991, Richard Elovich tells the story of a character named Felix Kater. As Elovich speaks in the first person virtually throughout, one assumes that Felix’s story is based on his own. The piece revolves around Felix’s relationship with Gordie Benjamin, a former schoolmate from Queens with whom he meets up later in life and falls in love. Except for flashbacks to Felix’s childhood, revealing strained parental relations and a fixation on Williams S. Burroughs that began in teenage years, the story of life with Gordie has a surprisingly traditional, neatly narrative structure. But as it turns out, the tautness of this narrative functions as a necessary relief-producing support for the emotions Elovich; a dynamic storyteller, provokes.

Sitting through Someone Else from Queens is Queer is like having one’s emotions gathered up and fired into a pinball machine. Like the darting pinball to which he compares Gordie’s dark eyes, Elovich bounces from humor (he mimicks the type of line delivered by his radio-announcer father: “It’s Frank Sinatra’s world; we just live in it”) to horror (the monologue takes us along on the drug-induced free-fall Felix shared with Gordie). After we are slammed up against the realities of the characters’ eventual HIV infection, Elovich defies gravity, catapulting us back up the hill with Felix as he recovers from addiction, and participates, along with Gordie, in ACT UP. The story ends by exploring the profound conflicts Felix experiences during and after Gordie’s death.

The ostensible fiction of the characters provides the requisite distance the viewer needs to absorb the story’s gut-wrenching nonfictional aspects. When Gordie delivers a speech at an ACT UP meeting—a presentation of hard facts concerning the way in which HIV-infected women, people of color, poor people, and IV-drug users are routinely excluded from adequate medical attention “because of the structure and financing of health care in this country”—the potential didacticism (most of the people in the audience already knew these enraging facts) is leavened by the quasi-fictional form of the scenario. Listeners feel talked to instead of taught to. The advantageous result is the strengthening of the bond among those in the audience who are already active in the struggles surrounding AIDS, and the ultimate benefit, of course, is that anyone wandering into the piece without an awareness of such things as discriminatory health-care practices gets the facts delivered in a straightforward manner, lubricated by the humor and emotion of the rest of the performance.

Although Elovich’s monologue performances bear an obvious relation to those of Karen Finley, Holly Hughes, or even David Wojnarowicz (who, although he reads his texts, does so in a highly performative manner), his style is distinctly his own. Elovich is refining what may become a trademark economy of means. His stripped-down esthetic (he wears street clothes and sneakers and makes use of only four simple props—the water fountain in situ at P.S. 122, a cup, a cigarette with which he imitates Burroughs’ “fishy” lip movement, and a stuffed armadillo that serves as visual referent for a treasure Gordie brings home from vacation) helps underscore the no-frills nature of his message. As he says at the beginning of his piece, speaking from the position of Gordie in dialogue with an apolitical friend who claims he’s beginning to comprehend an activist’s sense of “agency”: “Agency, schmagency! You pick up a sign and you walk in the street. It’s not theoretical. It’s not Lacan. It’s direct action. . .It doesn’t leave room for your ambivalence. . .ambivalence is too often used as legitimation for quietism. . .doing nothing.”

In Someone Else from Queens is Queer, Elovich accomplishes much: he solicits empathy that motivates instead of sympathy that paralyzes, and he provides the requisite esthetic distance necessary to make the intense emotions he evokes assimilable without leaving room for ambivalence about his message. Whether he wanted it to or not, his nuanced narrative structure fulfilled a theorizable premise:by constructing an adequate but charged space within which to assess political commitment, one enables listeners to decide how, in their own personal way, they can “pick up a sign.”

Kathy O’Dell

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