A Stage Drama, An Art Exhibit, and a Comedy Revue Illuminate the 1980s with Numinous and Luminous Power

Photo by Christopher James

Photo by Janet Collins.

Steel Kiss

Segue Productions has mounted a riveting production of Steel Kiss by Robin Fulford. Set in a Toronto Park in 1985 a seamless ensemble of four dynamic male actors play multiple roles ranging from a pack of homophobic hoodlums, to various women, to cruising men seeking sex and emotional connection. It continues to play at three different local venues in September: Chameleon Theatre Circles’s Burnsville Black Box space, Sabes Jewish Community Center, and Blank Slate Theatre.

Fulford and director Scott Gilbert lay the violence on thick but it’s done artfully in such a way that it registers with the audience as repulsive and not like a sports event. Those who think nothing of violence in films, may actually feel confronted when watching the brutal gaybashing moments deftly rendered by the cast: Jay Kistler, DJ Gierhart, Myles W. Wendt, and John Potter.

On the other hand, these young actors are vulnerable as well. We sense the baleful ignorance beneath the surface of the bully characters. In some moments we may wonder to what degree the aggression and violence is about covering up one’s own submerged homosexual feelings.

We also sense the delicate vulnerability of cruisers who in pre-internet days were not only targeted by thugs, cops, and religious types, but put down by assimilationist gays and lesbians who saw them, judgmentally, as sex addicts. That said, these attitudes toward cruising still exist.

Fulford reflects numinous insights about the nature of violent homophobia which were written and are about an era when the bullying issue had not yet become the political concern it has thankfully now become. Therefore, it’s truly a marvelous opportunity to see how the bullying mentality manifested a quarter of a century ago in a Toronto Park. The Steel Kiss actors take you on a beguiling rollercoaster ride through that space and time.

After you’ve seen Steel Kiss, remember that the Walker Art Center’s 1980s exhibit has some extraordinary gay films from the era that are continually screened right inside the exhibit area. You will want to set a few hours aside and perhaps make a couple of trips. The films include the 1989 shorter film classics Tongues Untied by Marlon Riggs and Isaac Julien’s Looking For Langston, not to mention Nan Goldin’s Ballad of Sexual Dependency, and Gregg Bardowitz’s Fast Trip, Long Drop – Living With AIDS, a 1990s reflection on the ’80s.

Steel Kiss
Sept. 7-9
Burnsville Performing Arts Center, 12600 Nicolett Av. S., Burnsville
(800) 982-2787

Sept. 14 – 16
Sabes Jewish Community Center, 4330 S. Cedar Lake Rd., Mpls.
https://segue.tixato.com/buy or at the door
Blank Slate Theatre-First Baptist Church, 499 Wacouta St., St. Paul
https://segue.tixato.com/buy or at the door


Photo by Christopher James.

This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s

Before or after you see Steel Kiss, make sure you get to the Walker Art Center to soak in another powerful example of life in the 1980s. The exhibition, This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s, explores the Reagan Era with an eye turned away from the glorification of The Gipper that has become close to myth and religion with right-wingers of today. Instead, curator Helen Molesworth looks toward that which was daringly created in the margins of the decade. And she doesn’t shy away from including work that questions Reagan’s legacy and which frankly, was not always covered in depth by the network media that ruled at the time. So when you hear complaints about issues around cable news, just know that biases could be argued to have been just as skewered in the network era.

The exhibit is anchored in a section by Hans Haake with an official style portrait of Reagan with a scowl on his face. A red carpet leads up to it as if we are expected to genuflect before his image. Opposite the portrait is a large wall size photo of a big anti-nuclear march in New York a few days after Reagan had spoken to the German Parliament in Bonn about the U.S.’s deploying Pershing II and Cruise Missiles in West Germany. This was part of our nuclear proliferation which, up to that time, had been central to creating the biggest deficit in U.S. history. If one heard Romney’s recent GOP convention speech you heard the same with its implicitly expensive call for more overt aggression in Iraq and for a force shield in Eastern Europe. (Echoes of Reagan’s Star Wars force field illusions.) We’re talking hundreds of billions, if not trillions, in this case, from party, of which Reagan was/is a god, once again pledging unprecedented amounts for military spending.

Molesworth shrewdly includes art which reflects on the military policy, much of it secretive, done by Reagan’s administration. Doris Salcedo’s chilling Untitled in which 42 cloth shirts are sliced through by steel rods symbolize the dead husbands killed in Latin American labor struggles. Pertaining to Clothes, Airmail Painting No. 50 by Eugenio Dittborn addresses struggles after the Nixon/Kissinger intrusion on Chile in the previous decade, in which Augusto Pinochet, perhaps the worst post-Stalin dictator there was set horrific policies into place. (Catch the ’80s Cannes-winner Missing with Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek and the documentary, The Trials of Henry Kissinger for fascinating background on all that.)

What was considered as the elitist ’80s New York art scene is vividly countered by Lorraine O’Grady whose performance art in an African-American Day Parade in Harlem is photographed. The conceit here is of Harlem denizens looking through empty picture frames. You can draw whatever conclusions you want, but it’s a lucid look at how identity can be framed by what we turn our attention to.

Other renegade women’s art is exemplified by Deborah Bright’s clever Dream Girls photographs wherein movie stills of the iconic Hepburns – Audrey and Katherine – are injected with butch female images that bisexualize and lesbianize them.

Of course, the AIDS epidemic/pandemic defined the ’80s for so many people and New York was where the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT-UP) was centered. Gran Fury’s iconic poster ‘Kissing Doesn’t Kill’ hangs above other art that includes photos of subway art by Keith Haring, an image that calls for political action by calling The White House, and a quote by President George H.W. Bush. (For background, Reagan was often accused of indifference in the early years of AIDS. This is still a controversial assertion to make.) In a separate gallery and screening area, Robert Gober’s hypnotic Slides of a Changing Painting has subtle undertones relating to AIDS.

In sum, this is a triumph by curator Molesworth. This Will Have Been is a desperately needed corrective view of a decade that has been grossly propagandized by Tea Partyers, NRA members, the Christian Right, and the corporations they shill for. For those who went gah-gah over the recent John Waters exhibit at the Walker, I say: ‘Excuse Me Please! It doesn’t hold a candle to the ’80s exhibit!’

This Will Have Been: Love, Art & Politics in the 1980s
Through Sept. 30
Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Av., Mpls.
(612) 375-7600


(l to r) Taj Ruler, Matt Erkel, Bobby Gardner, Lauren Anderson, Andy Hilbrands, Josh Eakright. Photo by Dani Werner.

The Rainbow Election: Mommies and Mormons and Gays, Oh My!

I reviewed this remarkable comedy revue in Lavender Spotlight last month but it’s worth reminding people that it contains a hilariously savvy comparison/contrast between Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan, as well as sharp satire about the the worship of Ronald Reagan by right wing true believers. Andy Hilbrands reprises the appealing Obama characterization he has played in previous revues and James Roops’s projections in which Obama morphs into Reagan are insipired. Director Caleb McEwen’s cast collaborators really buckled down and did their homework by giving us a non-Tea Party critique of the first African-American President. But fear not, it also goes after Mitt Romney and GOP attitudes toward women’s reproductive rights. So whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, you may be confronted. And you may or may not be surprised that the GOP today and the GOP of the ’80s have more in common than you may think. This revue clues us in to that.

The Rainbow Election: Mommies and Mormons and Gays, Oh My!
Through Nov. 3
Brave New Workshop, 824 Hennepin Av., Mpls.
(612) 332-6620

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