By: Darryl Reilly
Hank Williams is channeled by the lanky, charming and boyish Chris Riffle wearing jeans and a cowboy hat, playing guitar and wonderfully singing original country music-style songs at the beginning and end of the performance piece Virgo Star. It’s structured as an hour of disjointed vignettes comprised of spoken word and dance sequences centered on the theme of the American Old West film genre with a queer sensibility.
Following a comically exaggerated shootout, the two men make out. A cowgirl and a Mexican woman get together. At one point performers blindfold audience members for a brief bit. There’s a hula-hoop dance number. Monologues detailing homophobia, racism and gay bashing are enacted. It’s all cryptic, edgy and well-executed entertainment for devotees of non-traditional theater.
The cast of Daniel Diaz, Anabella Lenzu, Bree Breeden and Alessandro Magania are all appealing and have their shining moments. An integral inspiration is avant-garde arts fixture Agosto Machado. Mr. Machado’s autobiographical recollections about New York City gay life pre-Stonewall are interwoven as recited and lip-synched monologues. Machado appears at the curtain call which is followed by singing and mingling.
The 15 minute pre-show has the performers milling about in Diaz’s jeans, cowboy hats and other Western paraphernalia (including a fabulous sequined jacket) on the lower level of La MaMa as the audience arrives. Some offer greetings and others are interacting with each other and videoing each other. That’s broadcast on a screen in the main three-sided performance space to the accompaniment of 1970’s disco songs. In a smaller room video of two men conversing and mildly carrying on intimately is shown, while later footage of John Wayne is intercut. This prelude gets Virgo Star off to an intriguing start.
Writer Gian Marco Riccardo Lo Forte has crafted a fitting framework to enigmatically explore his subject through lightheartedness and seriousness. Mr. Lo Forte’s direction has momentum and visual variety. Beth Graczyk’s choreography for the same sex couplings is accomplished and witty. Shirtless males and boisterous females square dance at times and eroticism abounds.
The technical contributions of cinematographer Jon Burklund, video designer Hao Bai, production and lighting designer Philip Treviño and technical and design director Mark Tambella are all high-caliber. Gavin Price’s sound design is most atmospheric with its sounds of cows, rain, thunder, gunshots and wind, conjuring up the imaginary sight of tumbleweeds.
Virgo Star is presented by Pioneers Go East Collective. This consortium of performance artists was founded in 2010 and among their aims is “to celebrate LGBTQ and Feminist stories.” That’s certainly achieved by this engaging and provocative extravaganza.
Virgo Star (through December 1, 2019)
Pioneers Go East Collective
La MaMa’s Downstairs Lounge, 66 East 4th Street, in Manhattan
Running time: 75 minutes without an intermission