Drag entertainer extraordinaire Naomi Sims stood on stage in a single spotlight at the Old Plantation Disco lip-syncing Diana Ross’ “Theme from Mahogany” which had become an often-requested signature performance. Her infamous feather-eyelashed ebony eyes spoke of a thousand triumphs and as many tragedies as the lyrics sounded.
“Do you know where you’re going to? Do you like the things that life is showing you? Do you know?”
A long line formed to hand her tips and as Naomi reached to take each dollar, she seemingly acknowledged each and every adoring fan. I was one of them, captivated by every perfectly formed word and calculated gesture. Then, she began to sign the lyrics, her long beautiful fingers extending beyond the light. I wept.
Some time later my first lover asked me to live with him as we slow danced to
“Mahogany”, and the words, “Do you know where you’re going to?” registered.
No. I did not know where I was going, but just as I saw the wonder, beauty and love in Naomi’s gut-wrenching performance, I leapt willingly. At that moment I was ready to go anywhere and experience everything my new introduction into gay life had to offer.
This moment in my history was one of many that flooded over me as I watched
A Landing On The Bayou, a series of delights for all the senses beautifully crafted into an evening of theatre unlike most.
Nick Vaughan and Jake Margolin have captured a brief period of Houston’s LGBTQ experience in narrative, art, video, recordings and live drag performance. It is eye opening and mind-blowing. Presented in a boardroom at the Alley Theatre as part of their All New Reading Series, an initiative which produces world premieres, commissions plays and supports playwrights year round. Landing is a mixed-media treasure chest showing a world where a division of political stances and drag performances seemed polar opposites but, in effect, unified a community dealing with police raids and the AIDS crisis.
A Landing On The Bayou took the Alley’s diverse audience on a journey that was all too brief, understandably. To capsulate two decades of LGBTQ culture into 90 minutes was an enormous task. However, Vaughan and Margolin created a rich, thoughtful and powerful piece. The injection of live drag performances by local celebrities was sheer brilliance and delighted the audience. Regina Dane spoofed Anita Bryant to the tune “I’m Sorry” as she passed oranges to the audience (as a video of the hater of all things homosexual took a pie in the face in slow motion).
A highlight performance came as Southryn Comfort Dion belted a Patti LaBelle number, tossing her wig high in the air in tribute to performers before her. Homage is paid to a number of famous drag faces in performance and in an art installation that molds the theatrical piece.
By far the most captivating, if haunting, moments came as An’ Marie Gill performed a high-heeled, boot stomping “Mein Herr” from Cabaret over a thematic map grid peeled away to reveal dark scuff marks where the streets of Montrose had been. Lit by a bright spot, the image lingered for a half minute, giving audience members a chance for their own interpretation.
The layers of history and remembrances were presented by poignant and often humorous recordings of well-known performers Hot Chocolate and Tasha Kohl and Houston icons Mary Hooper, Judy Beeson and Ray Hill. They shared moments that defined a captivating time of joy and tears in the LGBTQ experience: the wonderful times and the tragic loss of dear friends and extended family. One story about a drag queen, J.J., dressed as Wonder Woman haunted the video screen, cigarette in hand, defiantly challenging the camera with her upper body ready to charge forward. The event was a drag show in the backyard of the long defunct Mary’s, now an upscale coffee house, reminding us of one of many before and after images that included locations of The Bayou Landing, The Old Plantation, The Ranch (the show’s only nod to the “L” in LGBTQ. One hopes that it was not a conscious oversight and that future works might be evenly representational) as well as gay bars across Texas from Austin to Odessa. The assembling of brief glimpses of a bygone era was tied together reflecting seven pieces of art depicting popular drag diva photos placed over intricately sequined maps and framed individually in wooden-framed jigsaw pieces that fit together creating a striking image of the past.
Creative talents Vaughn and Margolin, members of the internationally acclaimed Brooklyn-based experimental theater company The Team, call themselves “interdisciplinary artists” and are on a quest to create their 50 States project, a series of fifty installation connecting queer life from each states’ pre-Stonewall history to contemporary regional queer experiences. The presentation was met with several bursts of wild applause for the live performances and several times, including the close of the show, with a jarring stillness that seemed to allow a moment, a connection and an understanding and appreciation of the intimate theatrical experience. A Landing On The Bayou is a decidedly important flash of LGBTQ history important to those who lived it and those who need to hear the stories.
A tentative date of January 13, 2019, has been set for a presentation of A Landing On The Bayou at Michael’s Outpost. Details to follow.