Friday, August 26, 2011

Fags of Fire Island

A New Recently Discovered Play: Fags of Fire Island (Adapted Memoirs of Tennessee Williams)
By Derek Dish

There's an explosive blowjob center to “Fags of Fire Island” - if only Mr. Williams would stoop to conquer.

The play is a faggy fictionalized remembrance of the summer of 1940, when Mr. Williams retreated to a Fire Island beach shack to contemplate his last failed Broadway debut which ultimately folded in its disastrous Broadway tryout.

In both her ''Memoirs'' and “Fags of Fire Island,'' Mr. Williams presents Kip as a saintly Nijinsky-esque icon - a skin-deep pin-up, not a person. On stage, Kip wears virginal white jockstrap and tirelessly rehearses his “Petrouchca pirouettes” exercises on August's face.

Though “Fags of Fire Island'' is partly about its hero's initiation into the Fire Island sexuality, it is principally preoccupied with his ill-fated crush on Kip, a Canadian draft-dodger and would-be dancer who recoils from this homosexual fling claiming that sex with Miss Williams is so exquisite that surely he’s going to end up gay.

It's no use pretending that the long dry spell in Tennessee Williams's career has ended with “Fags of Fire Island,'' his new play at Off-Off Broadway's Big Daddy Lane Theater.

This autobiographical drama - seemingly lifted directly from the pages of his 1975 ''Memoirs'' - falls right into the traps that have capsized all Miss Williams’ somewhat premature, ejaculatory predecessors.

Here again are the same old stylized ghostly hustlers, the same old sentimental vignettes, the same old watered-down appropriations from past triumphs and the same old “Suddenly, Last Summer” fag hag, chicken queen dramatizations.

Will Miss Williams ever despair of the endless exigencies of despairing? Endlessly disappearing and vanishing behind the dense clouds of her endless circumlocutionary theatrics?

Yet if “Fags of Fire Island'' arouses less-than-fond memories of Blanche DuBois putting the make on the paper boy in “A Streetcar Named Desire” or Sebastian Venable putting the make on all those cute street urchins on Spanish beaches in “Suddenly, Last Summer” - then surely it seems the playwright is back again writing about the same kind of protagonist she really knows – being a chicken queen.

Here we go again, one might say - stranded once more on the beach, waiting with the rest of everybody else for Tennessee Williams's imaginative tide once more to suck us in.

Unfortunately, director Denise Dominique fails to convince us that her version of the play about Kip, Williams’ erstwhile pretty boy lover, has any particularly new surprises in store for us.

Dominique’s Kip as the demure 20 years old one-time flame of the malevolent new bitchy version of Tennessee Williams - just isn’t very convincing, nor are any of the other puzzling cipher-esque characters.

Under Miss Dominique’s direction, the Big Daddy Repertory Company gives the play a piss-ant elegant airing. The sharp performances come from Quentin Crisp, a bit arch but credible as the no-nonsense quickly aging August, and from Taylor Lautner, in a salty turn as a hungry dancer who tempts August to put dibs on his junk.

The only calamity is the demure Quentin Crisp, who, despite rumors of her demise, tries her best as Kip's ill-written effeminate suitor, but fails to convince us that she is either a playwright, or a one-time flame of that pretty boy on the beach, other than as a brief flashback-figment-of-the-queen’s-imagination.

Queerty/drama critic SM Smarty Pants and his photoblogger assistant recently took the pink ferry from Sayville, New York to Fire Island this past weekend and got down in the legendary playwright’s tricking zone there on Pines beach. Where pop trio Dragonette (“Hello”) parties along with DJ Lee dagger of Bimbo Jones - for those gay weekend crowds of strapping lads in a frenzy. (Later that night, everyone bounced over to 236 Bay Walk before coming in from the hurricane.)

Also during Deep South Weekend: Steve Sidewalk introduced singer Kelsey to a crowd of sweaty boys at High Tea; Crystal Waters, Countess Luann and Kristine W performed; and DJ goddess Lina turned it out at her Twirlina residency at Sip N’Twirl.

The dialogue in “Fags on Fire Island” reaches a lively pitch only in a funny, knowing scene in which August negotiates with his Canadian draft-dodging cute hustler and his lovely fawning, skinflint girlfriend for the price of the goods & family jewels. Much as August admires the well-built young dancer, she drives a hard bargain as to what the kept boy contract will cost the old dame.

Kip's woman friend - who's dying of congenital diabetes - announces that she’s been able to get by on just one kidney because after all “I’ve managed to get by with only Kip’s single penis for such a long time, honey.”

Unfortunately, when she isn't playing bridge and gossiping about her memories, the playwright wastes energy on needless anecdotes and repackaged erotic love stories. A New York Times gangster-critic named Bugsy, no less, has been trashing Williams lately for playing the same old cabaret swan song for years now. A miffed Crisp, of course, knows how to play the offended Miss Shakespeare rather nicely.

As one character asks August early on, ''All you seem to do is talk around the subject, don’t you?'' This pointed question queers the evening far more persuasively than any creaky closet door could.

All of a sudden everything has to stop so we can hear some digressional, sound-alike monologues in the gay aether—coming from the unseen ghosts of Tallulah Bankhead and Norma Desmond, two Williams friends who otherwise don't figure in this play?

This old dramatic device just doesn't work anymore, feebly trying to recreate that famous ''double exposure'' effect, that refracting of the crummy past through the despicable present, that the playwright intends. Mannered and dizzy in execution, this once supposedly lyrical technique has steadily devolved since ''The Glass Menagerie'' to become the playwright's favorite detour tactic for snotty critics and bored audiences.

Posing now as a new born-again playwright-heroine butching it up as a surviving, selfish realist - as a spiritual cousin to Stanley Kowalski – seems rather doomed from the start. Since Miss Crisp has never played the role of a defenseless martyr to illusions. Her version of Miss Williams has found a potential means for turning all her many shocking dramatic conflicts inside out. At the very least, it sets the stage for a powerful exorcism of Sebastian-esque chicken-jailbait guilt and shame. Smirk.

But the Sebastian Venable exorcism never happens - because the playwright can’t seem to keep her mind on the action. Without an Elizabeth Taylor fag hag to center the scene around a translucent one-piece bathing suit for the boyz of Fire Island to ogle at, well then what’s the point of continuing the effort to bring stream-of-consciousness to the stage?

It’s as if when Williams says that ''life finally seems to all occur at one time,'' then why keep dimming the lights so that she can enter a tacky trance and leap into a saccharine flashback or crummy forward? What happened to right now—when Chicken Tuna of the Sea is wiggling right there on the hook?

Kip is sexually inexperienced but he’s desperate for money – so that August can just about try any scheme, however manipulative and brutish, and could very well succeed in her effort to use, exploit and violate her precious prey. (Are the tough verbs uttered by Kip truly the playwright's own? Such rude hustler lingo and slutty slang certainly are sexually provocative and suggestive.)

When leering Tennessee Williams’ first attempts to put the make on getting the young dancer in her bedroom finally come down, the playwright's tone is embarrassingly tres breathy and much too Marilyn Monroe-esque. Instead the propositioning comes out like an overly sweet Miss Havisham’s enticement of a dumb naïve Pip - sheltered by an outdated Dickens romanticism.

Soon Miss Williams’ dialog tilts toward bitterness, once she comes to realize that Kip is no naïve, innocent Pip outta “Great Expectations.” Which puts Miss Williams into an old-fashioned déjà vu swoon full of the usual self-recriminations of a bitter old queen.

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