at Club Lower Links

There’s a trend among local performance artists to curate cabaret “revue” shows–usually overly long programs held together by the thinnest of themes. And there’s a trend at Club Lower Links to designate Wednesday night as a kind of new-talent or experimental slot. Both tend to give performers, especially younger ones, an opportunity to try out still-developing material. The revues also provide a sense of community for these artists, who often appear in one another’s programs.

The audience–if it’s willing to deal with the shows lasting forever and sometimes spotlighting performers who shouldn’t have been let out of their performance classes–benefits from being able to sample local talent and trends. Besides, every now and again something wonderful happens. Paula Killen might pop by and sing a torch song, as she did a couple of weeks ago at Lower Links for one of Lawrence Steger’s programs. Or D. Travers Scott might do a delicious little bit that wouldn’t fit in his longer solo shows, on the political implications of who’s top or bottom in a gay male sexual relationship. Or on a really lucky night Iris Moore, one of the city’s most powerful and provocative performers, might make one of her rare appearances.

Nothing so wonderful happened last Wednesday night when Pat O’Donnell, a young and promising performance artist, hosted “Pat’s Platform,” a revue show organized around a 1970s-nostalgia theme. O’Donnell certainly had the right idea. She planned to run a performance piece of her own throughout the program, interrupting performances by her guests. And she invited only five of these–a diverse group that included a poet, a video maker, and a singer. Everything should have run smoothly. But it didn’t.

Part of the problem was the revue format itself. Once a performer’s onstage, not much can be done to keep her or him thematically on track. So, for example, when poet Jim Banks hit the stage, he chucked the whole 1970s idea and read whatever he wanted. (Amazingly, he inadvertently kept banging his head against a disco ball that hung over him, though he could easily have moved the microphone. He looked ridiculous and undermined the more serious intent of his work.)

The other problem was Thax Douglas, who’s ubiquitous at these revue shows. Douglas–whose cultivated persona on- and offstage is that of a grandiose nerd–is notorious for going on too long. This time he consumed more than 40 minutes, demonstrating his disregard for his colleagues, who averaged 10 minutes, as well as for his audience. More than half of those in attendance exited after his marathon, leaving the much better Kristin Amondsen and John “Sinatra” Connors without much of an audience.

Douglas set his work to music, performing with musician-video maker Eric Nordhauser. Not that it mattered much. Nordhauser’s compositions had rhythm and mood; Douglas lacked both. His sense of timing was atrocious, forcing Nordhauser to start his loops over again and again. In addition, Douglas kept losing his script among a pile of notebooks, causing delays and unnecessary tension.

These formal concerns would have fallen by the wayside if Douglas had had anything original or provocative to say. “You won’t lick the lint out of my navel, but you expect me to love you,” he said during a dizzying monologue about, among other things, his “blood-engorged penis.”

Douglas followed that with a long, violent piece about beating his mother to a bloody pulp. In a torrent of disconnected imagery, mixed metaphors, and exaggerated description, he wandered aimlessly from one subject to another. None of it covered up the hollowness at the core of his work.

Those who endured were rewarded. Connors, who earned his stage name by turning Sinatra tunes inside out, performed a wonderful piece about his youthful obsession with Barbra Streisand. Amondsen energized the room with a vibrant lip-sync sendup of Ethel Merman’s disco version of “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” And Jay Batman, who may be trying a little too hard to be the new Lynn Book, did a physically exhausting and emotionally compelling piece about the conflicts inherent in individual rights.

O’Donnell started several engaging pieces but seemed too preoccupied with the rest of the show to fully develop them. Her “glamrock” piece in particular had tremendous potential. The biggest surprise of the night may have been Murray McKay, O’Donnell’s stage foil. Decked out in sickly brown leather flared pants, McKay kept popping up between and in everybody’s acts, daredevil dancing 1970s style. He was hilarious, haunting, and exquisitely precise. The shake of his little booty did more for the evening’s theme than anything else.