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Queer, odd and just right

Keith Gallasch, Unbecominings

unBecomings was one of the hits of the 2000 Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival, dynamically designed and expertly and eccentrically performed by young, queer artists with guidance from experienced mentors. Sadly, the 2001 model has a still life set, some less than excellent performances and serves up some predictable queerness. But there are some high points.

Gay and lesbian duo Shelley O’Donnell and Karl Velasco kickstart the show with impressive showbizzy vigour and neat timing that the audience love, but there’s not much in the way of substance when it comes to trying to guess at the meaning of such a collaboration. Andrew Brennan, on the other hand, does great stand-up in Mom Knows (with the odd theatrical gesture deftly thrown in), delivered drolly (“under 16 not an expressive medium”) and very much at his own absorbing pace. As a gay rites of passage narrative it’s pretty distinctive, not only country town, but working against a disability (not that he bothers to go into that) and a liberal mother with lesbian friends who baulks at her son’s coming out. One of the night’s best—let’s see more of Andrew Brennan. Verticularity (Rosie Dennis and company) comes on like a Pina Bausch show with its elegantly attired performers arriving ritually and gracefully with music to match (waltz’n’bass’drums) before engaging percussively with a row of typewriters and pointedly delivering some rather arch text. It’s a disciplined performance but it evokes soiree and recitation too much for my taste. Something’s missing.

Karen Therese is a charismatic performer first seen to great effect in Nikki Heywood’s The Darkroom III for PACT a few years ago. Recently she’s been training at the VCA in Melbourne. i’ll get you my pretty is strange, not queer strange, just odd. A savage tirade against Judy Garland (“she blamed her mother...she married 2 poofs...” etc, no irony in sight, very Karen Finley, the audience tense) is followed by storm FX and a dull bit of flirting with the audience using a video camera. She finds a female face she likes: “I want to be the father of your child...none of this turkey baster stuff.” She fantasises an ideal home, 2 mums, 2 dads (including sperm donor). She imagines she’s getting into bed “and she knows I’m there and I love it.” Who—Judy/lover? Judy’s shoes light up forestage. End. Is all forgiven. What happened? If I was a Kleinian psychoanalyst I could have a field day with this ragged pattern of rejection, ingestion, fetishising, various kinds of objectification, splitting etc. But I’m not and will have to settle with i’ll get you my pretty being rather opaquely about lesbian love-hate for a gay icon mixed up with more personal fantasies. Whatever, it was more mystifying than mysterious and, on opening night, Therese’s performance was unusually over the top and certainly short on her usual magnetism. Quite a trip nonetheless.

Last year Garth Bolwell was brutally splattered with cream, adding a sculptural dimension straight out of performance art, as he bewailed life and love. It worked. The wailing is with us again, but without tight direction it’s pathos all the way. The writing is too loose, the staging unfocused. Our coked-up confesser skates awkwardly on roller blades from inflatable doll to doll, lamenting a good lover turned bad, a too familiar tale, all abstraction, no specificity, no insight into his own appalling decay.

Topically dedicated to Tom & Nicole, The Devil has plenty of literary oomph in Brian Fuata’s sonorous delivery of his poetic text and in his and co-performer Hannah Furmage’s adroit physical game of heterosexual musical chairs, all fey affection and edgy antagonism (“I desire everything you are not”) underscored with gay male anxiety and a repudiation of aspects of gay life. This is played closely against resolutely noir-romantic black and white video images on a big screen of Fuata and Furmage in extreme closeup—embracing, dancing, kissing, smoking. Even though the work is sometimes dense to the point of opaque, the power of performers and video (finely shot by Marty Dacachen) make for memorably sensual imagery and an uneasy air of doubt about the certainty of sexual proclivities as the performers alternatively intone: “I was a queen once and all he loved me for was what I was.”

unBecomings, PACT Youth & Performance Space, producers Caitlin Newton-Broad & Fiona Winning, design Anthony Babici, lighting Richard Manner; Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival 2001; Performance Space, Feb 13-17

RealTime issue #42 April-May 2001 pg. 29

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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