Out of the Closet, Endlessly Rocking at the BCA Festival
Blood:Shock:Boogie by Daniel Alexander Jones at the BCA part of the 1996 Festival of Gay and Lesbian Theater through September 29
With "Fruit Cocktail," Tim Miller achieves through performance art what Jane Austen accomplishes in her novels: he tells a lighthearted story with a predictable ending, about ordinary people in ordinary circumstances, yet tells it so ingeniously that one is left dumbfounded, attempting to explain how such common events could form such a profoundly satisfying theatrical experience.
Where Austen places marriage at the center of her novels, "Fruit Cocktail" effectively proposes that sex is, for many, the most vital part of contemporary gay male experience. Miller's piece is a familiar refrain of boyhood discovery, adolescent repression and ultimate sexual release, as he moves from his childhood in Whittier, California, to his backyard autoerotic exploits, to his first sexual encounter with a modern dancer named David. One never tires of hearing stories like this, but the taboos of the dominant sexual order prevent them from being told often enough (Miller's notorious battles with government officials over NEA funding is a case in point). To hear this story told, and told so well, inspires a sense of well-being and affirmation that is sure to leave its audiences grinning inside for days to come.
As a performer, Miller combines boundless energy with a keen sense for the outlandishly funny. While many have found Miller's nudity in this and other pieces offensive, there is no doubt that his body is vital to the sexual frankness of his art. From the moment he affectionately tells the audience that they remind him of a bed of pubic hair, to when he masturbates with a piece of Valencia orange stuck in his mouth, to the climactic moment when he orgasms to Handel's "Messiah," Miller is a paragon of eros, humor and theatricality packed into one vital, often naked body. Switching effortlessly from one performance mode to another, Miller at one moment works the audience better than any stand-up comedian, then dives into his own illusionary world the next, and performs equally well in both modes.
The piece's most compelling and hilarious moments occur as Miller tells of his backyard escapades, using various fruits and vegetables as sex tools. His tribute to zucchini is outrageously funny, performed while bending at the knees, up and down, up and down, while recalling his mother's reaction to her discovery of his exploits. Deeply moving is Miller's ode to his backyard Valencia orange tree, using his body to expel a paroxysm of sexual desire while sucking on an orange. As juice runs from his mouth, working its way down his body, and dropping lusciously to the floor through his penis, Miller's queer body and the orange tree become linked in a delicious visual metaphor. The tree's fruit, its juice, and its potential for giving and receiving pleasure, suddenly become Miller's own.
Exceedingly important as well is Miller's lack of mere nostalgia about his past sexual experiences. While he recalls them with great fervor, he never dampens the sexual energy of the piece with regret. Miller conveys in every joke, in every movement of his body, that he enjoys sex just as much now as he did then and, more importantly, that sex can be as good now. Miller is a rare performer who seemingly has lived through the AIDS crisis and has successfully moved on, truly believing that AIDS does not have to inhibit the joy of his sexual experiences. Even as he discusses past lovers who have died of AIDS, Miller's sexual joy in this piece promises that he will not be haunted by this past. Such a stand shows real artistic and political progress, as Miller signals a time when the gay man can dissociate AIDS from his guilt over sex, and truly enjoy himself despite the crisis.
While "Fruit Cocktail" speaks of events almost entirely in the past, it is ultimately a celebration of a gay male identity that has felt the winter of the AIDS crisis, but has blossomed once again to a point when cultural constraint can no longer contain its love of sex. While many have tried to use AIDS to instill fear and guilt into the hearts of gay men, this piece is a reminder that the gay man's cocktail party must, should, and most importantly, can go on.
"Blood:Shock:Boogie" is worth attending, if only to see performer/author Daniel Alexander Jones commanding the stage, moving so seductively that one cannot help but be enraptured by his grace. Jones' presence dominates the piece, overshadowing the two other performers, Daniel Dodd-Ellis and Jason Phelps. A hodgepodge "jam session" of black gay experience, superheroes, soul singing and Julia Child surreal fantasy, "Blood:Shock:Boogie" is wildly entertaining and ingenious at many points. Its greatest attribute is a lack of commitment to narrative and straightforward meaning, so that its entire commentary on life experience rests on the exact moment that its performers are onstage.
Unfortunately, its lack of a narrative line is also "Blood:Shock:Boogie's" main liability. The piece ultimately fails when, in it's final moments, Jones attempts to instill seriousness and dramatic coherence into its chaotic structure. When Jones and his sidekicks stop moving, stop making the audience laugh, they become boring, and the piece ends 30 minutes too late.