Betty Bourne is the founder and leader, Lavinia Co-op is the tall glamorous queen, Bella Bechstein tickles the ivories, Naughty Nickers reigns the scene, and Harmony is the baby. Harmony is the baby because she is baby chubby (“a dumpling Adonis”) and because she’s still just playing Harmony (the program says so: Michael Gunney as Harmony) while the others are who they are and who they play—Betty, Lavinia, Bella, and Naughty Nickers. Bloolips succeeds by such complications (people both playing and being who they are), emphasizing drama’s live here-and-now while proving that theater of any worth should be ridiculously fantastic—shoes growing on trees, Marlene Dietrich rescuing you from a plane crash. It should also fuck with convention: narrative leading nowhere, “actors” chatting with the cue person, the audience at once enticed and ignored, the scenery changes deliciously shabby, boldly lit or completely in the dark, and either way commented on by the performers who do them. Betty Bourne announces, “Exposition is the death rattle of drama,” and meanwhile Bloolips exposes everything—fat, age, tedium, hilarity.

In Island of Lost Shoes, n.d., the Bloolips crew sings songs about shoes (“fuck-me pumps with Crawford straps”), makeup, and frocks; chats about spanking magazines, acting tired, and tired acting; saves one of its own from certain death at the hands of an eight-foot-tall transvestite, Newtina; analyzes Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe in a lovely song (“Where did Robinson Crusoe go with Friday on a Saturday night?”); makes its own sound effects (parking-meter farts; plane crash), an island out of a pile of gaudy pillows, an airplane cabin from a row of chairs, a deepblue sea from a sari; turns airplane oxygen masks into tiny hats (“Look, tiny hats!”); and attempts to tap its troubles away with various tap-shoe numbers.

Troubles of all sorts are the start and finish of Ray Dobbins’ play, Phil Booth’s music (both with a hefty dose of Bloolips’ input). What does it mean to be depressed by everything around you for no other reason than everything around you? Betty Bourne’s first lines announce she “might as well be dead,” and she encourages the rest of Bloolips to “carry on as if” she weren’t there suffering. Betty is drunk on tears and booze, exhausted from being “old, tired, penniless, and unemployed.” The little vacation to a boy-filled Greek island to cheer Betty up, after the plane crash everyone survives, turns into weeks on the island of lost shoes, “somewhere there in fairyland,” but when everyone flies, on their own cuckoo wings, back to London, Betty is still depressed, still old, tired, penniless, unemployed—and angered.

“I don’t enjoy growing old and losing my looks,” Betty states, and yet, as Naughty Nickers bitterly retorts, how many dream of a chance to grow old they will never have. Little more about AIDS is said but Naughty’s few words, changing the timbre of what has gone on before, remind everyone (players and audience) of what has been and still is going on. Drawing no conclusions, Bloolips’ drag (Krusty the Clown meets a hungover Jack Smith) glitters garishly for the sake of the garish and glittery: it means nothing, it connotes all you wish to see reflected in their sequins or not. Using everything from ballet and stilt walking to Balinese-inspired movement, their theater fails only when it attempts exposition, as it did in their encore. To the traditions of the Theater of the Absurd and Charles Ludlam’s Theater of the Ridiculous (“This isn’t Sunday school”), Bloolips adds the buzz of pub vaudeville, the bawdiness of Shakespeare (the island of lost shoes is more Prospera’s than Andy Warhol’s), spikes of Hollywood venom. They are the deceptively gentle mothers (think Marilyn Monroe in Niagara) of the British vendetta drag group Spunkflakes. Loving bad puns, tattered glamour, and bitchiness, “gathering the lip rouge while [they] may,” Bloolips plays with the remains of everything around them.

Bruce Hainley