photo: Andrew Collings
In an Ohio basement in 1985, young Dean Evans watched "Purple Rain" with his family and heard the word homosexual for the first time. Enchanted by the word, the meaning of which he did not yet know, he performed a sensual dance for his family that involved a pillow and much breathy repetition, the dance ending abruptly when his brother called him a fag and his stepfather left the room in appalled silence. "And I never got to finish my motherfucking dance," a grown Dean Evans said to the audience of "Drag," the latest mainstage production by the Neo-Futurists.
One could argue that the entire play is, in a way, a continuation of that dance. Exuberant, deviant and more than a little muddled in meaning, "Drag" was created by Evans but includes a cast of five who run the gamut of male, female, gay, straight, transvestite and transsexual, as well as those who reject such labels. In true Neo-Futurist form, "Drag" overthrows a distinct narrative in favor of a series of personal monologues, over-the-top sci-fi stories, group dance numbers and silent, near-still performance pieces.
The play is at its decidedly best when those onstage are sharing true stories of their lives: Dylan Reiff recounting his blustery assertions of his heterosexuality while he worked at a video arcade and the burgeoning crush those assertions shielded; Gabrielle Schaffer telling the story of the first time she returned to her family home in Rockford, Illinois, as a woman. Jessica Hudson, a former Chicago King, delights as Chip, a swaggering male that refuses to die, despite Hudson's attempts at retirement and then assassination.
But for all its gusto and self-reflection, "Drag" fails to build any sort of emotional arc or cohesive production (and cohesion may be derided with reason within gender studies, but its lack onstage here is decidedly detrimental). Performed in the state park, the anteroom to the traditional Neo-Futurist stage, "Drag" uses the space that separates the audience as much as it does the stage, and while the catwalk-esque dance numbers certainly delight with their proximity, the lighting in the room was oddly distracting from the production.
At one point Hudson proclaims, "There's a space for deliberate gender performance and gender analysis in the theater." While agreeing with that, it's unfortunate that more clarity and focus weren't employed on this stage to produce greater effect and impact.
At the Neo-Futurarium through December 9. Shows 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. Tickets $15 Friday-Saturday, $10 students; pay-what-you-can Thursday.