Vaginal Davis Is Speaking From the Diaphragm
The performance artist's deconstruction of daytime talk shows is one of the most subversive yet most fun productions currently in New York.
That said, anyone with a severe allergy to audience participation might want to avoid the show but it would be their loss. It's not that there are a lot of audience members being plucked up onstage by the legendary performance and visual artist who calls herself Vaginal Davis (Dr. Davis, for short). It's just that when it does happen, boundaries of acceptable behavior are rather joyfully infringed.
Two downtown legends in their own right, Carmelita Tropicana and Jennifer Miller, serve as co-hosts to this delightful chaos, with the former at performances through May 22, and the latter co-hosting the remainder of the run. The night I attended, Carmelita got things rolling with a piece recited entirely in Spanish. The only words I caught were "el amor" and "Sonia Sotomayor," which, interestingly, were enough to get her point across crystal clear.
Meanwhile, different guests appear each night to be interviewed by Davis, many of them fixtures of the downtown arts scene themselves, ranging from Justin Bond to Annie Sprinkle. The night I attended, the assortment included the award-winning gay writer Bruce Benderson, longtime lesbian rock singer-songwriter Carole Pope, and Gio Black Peter, an exciting young category-defying artist whose striptease and punk raps bring to mind a Mick Jagger for the new millennium.
These guests all seem to be in on the act -- they're each dressed in similar shades of black, white, and red -- and each helps Davis keep the conversation flowing with ease. A cultural rebellion seems to be very much on everyone's mind here, with Davis a self-described "modern-day Madame Defarge knitting in her wine shop," shouting out, "We're coming to get you!" You begin to understand why one admiring critic once referred to Davis' act as "terrorist drag."
Meanwhile, what other talk show would hook up via Skype with a gender studies professor on the West Coast (Jennifer Doyle) to discuss the lesbian icon status of soccer star David Beckham before veering off, suddenly, into a bout of drunken butt-slapping? Meanwhile, go-go boys and girls serve the guests cocktails, then move off to side monitors for continual rounds of live Chat Roulette. (One girl later offers herself quite literally as dessert to willing participants.)
There are a number of designers involved in this extravaganza, but it's Jonathan Berger -- who is credited with overseeing the overall design and production -- who has helped create a very nice unified vision of white panels and boxes that merge dynamically with a wall of monitors flashing Jean Kim's wonderful video design.