SOMEONE ELSE FROM QUEENS IS QUEER
at Gallery 2
William S. Burroughs is only one of the many characters Richard Elovich portrays in Someone Else From Queens Is Queer, though the protagonist is someone called Felix the Kat. Elovich begins the performance in the persona of Felix’s beloved, dashing Gordie Benjamin, who speaks in a nasal, twangy, almost exaggerated Queens accent. Later Elovich changes the accent, the voice, the intonation, and the bearing to impersonate different people: Felix’s mother, the bartender Giacometti, Felix’s father, and Herman Munster.
The piece starts in almost unnerving full light, both on the performance area at Gallery 2 and on the audience. As in Goat Island’s recent appearances at the Wellington Avenue Church, the lighting makes the audience unwitting accomplices in the unfolding action. Unlike Goat Island, here there was just one performer. Elovich, who could see every slight action or facial twitch in the audience, was not beyond glaring at the person sitting next to me–my mother–who had pulled some gum out of her mouth and was scrabbling for a piece of paper from her purse to put it in. When he looked at her with his piercing Peter Lorre eyes she stopped, and didn’t even try to put the gum away again until he’d turned to grab a chair.
The story of the life of Felix the Kat is many things: a touching love story, a memoir of family life and the mores of the 1950s and ’60s, an examination of male and female role models and of popular culture–The Addams Family and The Munsters (and the secrets these families held), drug addiction, ostracism of Jews, estrangement from the family, abandonment, betrayal, AIDS awareness and activism. Press materials describe the piece as “a composite of many stories and speeches shared by friends. It is not autobiography, nor is it fiction.”
The absurd, sad, and sometimes funny stories within the story of Felix the Kat tend to double back on each other. When Elovich pulls a chair out for Gordie, several minutes into the piece, his persona changes to Felix, and we get a picture of Felix’s adolescent life. The empty chair becomes the place of honor for the dead. We watch Felix’s transformation from naive nebbish to “boy toy” to debaucher, paranoid drug addict, and finally AIDS activist. In a rather conventional gray suit, burgundy tie, and white shirt, Elovich could be anybody’s accountant, despite the sensational story.
Felix’s odyssey begins when, as an eager puppy in search of his hero, the legendary Burroughs, he meets his guide, the amoral bartender Giacometti. Giacometti introduces him to Burroughs, and eventually shows him how to shoot heroin. Giacometti is an unnerving character: at first he seems kind, giving Felix his first real job, but he’s a questionable life guide, bedding the teenager and introducing him to drugs. Later Felix meets his dashing, handsome, brilliant Gordie, and shortly thereafter prepares speedballs for his lover. Their lovemaking is cosmic, they seem to take turns riding each other for hours under the influence of heroin and cocaine, never consummating their passion.
Heroin addicts are not known for their sense of responsibility. They’re not easy to watch, and they’re even more disturbing to know. It’s problematic to try to describe this life in a sympathetic way, but Elovich shows how love pierces the veil created by cocaine and heroine to create a metamorphosis in Felix. In the telling the story becomes a morality tale. By the conclusion Felix is beyond blame, piety, and anger; he makes no excuses for himself or his behavior. He tells disturbing details about the life of a heroin addict, yet brings us through the denouement with grace.
The monologue is intriguingly framed. The space is devoid of props, except for a lectern off toward stage right and the gray chair at center. The work is well written and haunted by strange concepts that make bizarre sense, by weird asides that keep the story from seeming entirely grim. More than any of his other ideas the one about the Addams family and the Munsters and their relationship to Jewish assimilation in America is the most cockeyed but sensible–this could be an intriguing idea for a PhD thesis. Not since I happened across an obscure book comparing Buster Keaton to de Chirico has an odd theory seemed so captivating and touching. Like many of the stories within the stories in this work, this one moderates the dark colors of Felix’s tale and offers a ray of hope and humor.