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Resident Alien

By New York City
Bette Bourne in Resident Alien(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Bette Bourne in Resident Alien
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
What an incredible, larger-than-life story there is behind Resident Alien, the heartfelt, one man show saluting the late, great writer-actor Quentin Crisp that is now playing at New York Theatre Workshop. In November of 1999, Crisp--then 90 years old--made a trip home to England to star in his one-man show An Evening with Quentin Crisp; he had not been back to his native country since his immigration to America in 1981. At the very same time, in London, Bette Bourne was opening in Resident Alien, Tim Fountain's one-man play about Crisp. A joint press conference with Bourne and Crisp was arranged. But on November 21, mere days before his show was to open, Crisp died in his sleep. No joint interview occurred. Crisp's ashes were returned to America and scattered along the streets of New York, as was his wish.

Now, just over a year later, NYTW has imported Bourne and Fountain's Resident Alien, and all comers may revel once again in the glory of Quentin Crisp as if he had risen from the dead. Scenic and costume designer Neil Patel (Side Man, Lydie Breeze) has recreated Crisp's East Village apartment in exacting detail, right down to the chill in the room from the frost outside. In this squalid environment, Bourne is given reign to call upon the gods and enable Crisp to repossess his mortal coil in an impersonation that is downright uncanny. With a perfect, cotton-candy-colored wig and a high expanse of forehead, Bourne--most famous here as the leader of the queer comedy troupe Bloolips--tirelessly channels Crisp right before our very eyes, wearing this once-living character like a kidskin glove.

The show is bound to be unsettling for those who thought Crisp lived in some kind of splendor worthy of his fantastical personality. The truth is that he was just this side of Skid Row; Fountain opens his play with Crisp under a tattered sheet watching Oprah on a portable TV, awaiting the arrival of two fans who will take him out to a local restaurant and feed him while tape-recording his musings and answers to questions. This lunch-date-for-hire trick was a frequent practice that Crisp enjoyed as much as his stomach did.

Act One passes with a wink and a smile as Fountain doles out some of Crisp's hilarious anecdotes about such figures as Joan Crawford ("She was radioactive with the belief in herself") and a number of now-classic Crisp witticisms (e.g., "Intimate details of everyday life set you free from domestic chores.") Act Two gets much more serious as Crisp ponders his mortality ("I am ready for death but I just won't die") and shares some rather harsh views on homosexuality. Old and somewhat infirm, with an acute fear of falling and breaking weak bones, Crisp shuffles about his drab, cluttered apartment--and we are spellbound. It's like watching the last days of a species that cannot be saved from extinction.

Bourne, Fountain, and director Mike Bradwell have done an admirable job of allowing Quentin Crisp another visit to this small planet. America's favorite adopted brother, uncle, and queen has found a comfortable new home downtown. Long live this resident alien in our midst!


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