Performance diary: Justin Bond’s RE:GALLI BLONDE at the Kitchen

November 1, 2010

October 27 – Keith Hennessy flew in for a couple of days, mostly to see Ishmael Houston-Jones’s piece Them at PS 122, but he got in Wednesday night early enough for us to see Justin Bond and the House of Whimsy perform their show Re:Galli Blonde (A Sissy Fix) at the Kitchen. The piece was inspired by a chapter from Randy Conner’s invaluable scholarly book Blossom of Bone: Reclaiming the Connections between Homoeroticism and the Sacred about the galli, the tribe of eunuch priests who devoted themselves to worshipping the Roman goddess Cybele in the four or five centuries B.C.E. The galli were forebears of the South Asian hijra or the Native American berdache and other populations of two-spirit individuals who served as gatekeepers between male and female, this world and the other world. “They were considered gender variant in both appearance and behavior, and they appear to have engaged in same-sex eroticism,” says Conner, who goes on to describe that appearance and behavior in great detail, some of which was detectable in the performance.
There was a Cybele figure, played by Justin Bond, with two attendants in lion headdresses (above), and there were numerous references to the galli’s animal totem, the rooster. (Gallus means rooster, and even in 5th century B.C.E. Rome the association of rooster/cock/phallus was already in currency.) But as a whole Re:Galli Blonde was as tortured and incoherent as its title. It was framed as a pagan ritual. As the audience arrived, there were radical faeries drumming (below) and drag queens circulating through the house as Cybele sat on her throne waiting for her disciples to gather in a circle before her to re-enact the Queen of Heaven’s descent to the underworld to comfort her recently widowed sister Ereshkigal (played by tranny superstar Glenn Marla in a spangly red dress). This descent was the loose framework for a series of vaudevillean songs, dances, and drag numbers that wouldn’t have been out of place at Trannyshack, the legendary weekly punk-rock drag cabaret that ran for years at San Francisco’s Stud bar, or at a faerie gathering. Somehow Cybele got mashed up with Kathryn Kuhlman, a Midwestern evangelist and faith healer who had a national TV show in the 1960’s and 70s called “I Believe in Miracles.” And the Queen of Heaven story somehow became a creation myth about how gays came to be despised. When the Queen of Heaven’s male escort refused to kiss Ereshkigal, she delivered a blistering curse. To heal from this curse, Bond as Kuhlman/Cybele lined up the cast and had them say how they had been personally affected by homophobia/femmephobia/ transphobia. No matter how lame, vague, or naïve their testimonials were, they each received a pat affirmation (“You are beautiful, powerful, magical”) and pronounced healed. Seriously? It’s that easy?
I could see how Justin Bond was working several layers of spiritual and theatrical mythology, following in the high-heel footprints of Jack Smith, Ethyl Eichelberger, and the Cockettes. I was pretty appalled, though, at how shallow, simple-minded, un-ironic, unfunny, and unsexy the whole thing was, although to be fair it’s not like the forebears’ work was uniformly brilliant, deep and hilarious. The performances were surprisingly amateurish, which doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing — but I will say I’ve seen sharper performances and more historically/politically/spiritually astute acts thrown together in an afternoon for a “no-talent show” at Short Mountain Sanctuary. I suppose the best thing to be said about Re:Galli Blonde is that it gave the incredibly talented Machine Dazzle another occasion to create a set of spectacular costumes and it spurred me to go back and re-read the chapter in Conner’s book, which is full of fascinating crazy details. For example: “In Greco-Roman iconography, the finger and the penis are often interchangeable symbols. Moreover, the finger in perpetual motion is a Greek sign signifying digital or penile stimulation of the anus, referred to as ‘siphnianizing,’ as the inhabitants of Siphnos were thought o be especially fond of anal eroticism…To inscribe the name [of a loved one] on a finger suggested that the youth willingly yielded to anal eroticism.”

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