Stephen Lawson (left) and Aaron Pollard want you to join their camp. Photo: Andrea Hausmann
ZONA PELLUCIDA created by 2boys.tv (Stephen Lawson and Aaron Pollard), along with THE NEEDLE EXCHANGE, curated and hosted by Keith Cole. Presented by Buddies in Bad Times (12 Alexander). Opens Friday (January 9) and runs to January 24, Tuesday-?Saturday 8 pm. $15-?$29. 416-?975-?8555, artsexy.ca.
MONTREAL - It's nearly midnight, and Gigi L'Amour, aka Stephen Lawson, is performing the night's big closer.
Twitching and staggering across the stage, he lip-synchs to Judy Garland singing The Battle Hymn Of The Republic, lobbing lollipops into the packed crowd against images of an archival gay pride parade flashing in the background. Each perfectly timed toss of candy and flicker of false eyelashes sets off cheers.
And here's the twist. The audience at La Sala Rossa is full of straights, queers, old, young, males, females and trans. Apart from the fact that almost everyone is white, it's a refreshingly diverse crowd.
No, Toto, we're not in Toronto any more.
After seven years, it's the last-ever Kiss My Cabaret, the eclectic Montreal show where a guy can do a striptease while singing Carmen's Habanera in falsetto, and an unironic a cappella female group can reduce you to tears with their heartbreaking harmonies.
Photo by: Andrea Hausmann
To this seen-it-all set, Lawson and his work/life partner, Aaron Pollard - better known as 2boys.tv - are superstars. They developed much of their work here.
"Whenever we're on, we close the show," Lawson tells me later, after the mascara and wig have come off. He says this with a melodramatic flourish, à la a great diva, but it's true.
Since perfecting their art here and at other alt venues, 2boys.tv have taken their unclassifiable multidisciplinary act - part drag, part film and part queer theory seminar - from San Francisco to Santiago.
Buddies audiences got an appetizer a couple of seasons ago when the pair stole the show at Arthouse Cabaret. And last fall's Nuit Blanche crowds still haven't forgotten the sight of a bare-torsoed Lawson, wearing a 15-foot tall gown, lip-synching an Italian opera aria next to St. James Cathedral, quivering in the cold like a rare flower going to seed.
Now they're back for a longer and more complex work called Zona Pellucida.
The two were inspired by early German Expressionist films like M. and The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari.
"We were interested in the cycle of accusation and guilt in them - how if you're accused of something, you're guilty on some psychic level," says Pollard, who stays offstage and handles the troupe's considerable technical components.
"And obviously queers understand that - it's what we grow up with," adds Lawson.
We're sitting in a combination greenhouse/dining/makeup room in their St. Laurent duplex, drinking tea. The pair look awfully formal today in their black suits and ties, like a gay version of the Blues Brothers. A videographer has just been in, and they've clearly been projecting the alluring 2boys persona of stylish camp and rigorous formality, proud inheritors of the queer avant-garde tradition from Cocteau to Jarman.
For Zona, the two drew not on German film - no one would get the lip-synching, deadpans Pollard - but on mid-century American movies like All About Eve and Suddenly Last Summer. Each of the films has a theatre connection: they're either set in the world of the stage or, in the case of Suddenly, loosely adapted from a play.
"I look at part of our work as curatorial," says Pollard. "I'd love to put on a Tennessee Williams play, but it's just so wrong in this time and place. But I appreciate what he wrote, so it's a question of taking this stuff and breathing some new life into it."
These two are frighteningly smart, pointing out that drag is essentially a Brechtian device.
"It's a distantiation mechanism," says Pollard, without breaking a smile at the grad-school lingo. "You create a shimmering effect between what we perceive as real and not real, what we perceive as truth and not truth. Zona questions the idea of authenticity and voice.
"In the films, women are performing texts largely written by men expressing their own anxieties through these women. So Zona to me is a bit of a puppet show."
See? Smart. In creating their Nuit Blanche piece, they researched the history of their venue, unearthing some controversial facts about Toronto and cholera, and also incorporating ideas about waste disposal they saw in Buenos Aires.
"An essential part of art is to be thinking and engaged, critiquing," says Pollard, a former academic.
"There's no reason to do it otherwise. It's about engaging in the world around you and your audience."
Lawson, a former member of the now-defunct performance troupe Primus, fled traditional theatre.
"I couldn't cope with being an actor at the mercy of a director who would choose me to play something," he says. "You can't question the political ramifications of what you're doing."
2boys deals head-on with political ramifications, although they're layered beneath the eye candy of an impeccable drag act.
Zona is partly scored to Vincenzo Bellini's opera La Sonnambula, or The Sleepwalker. The reference isn't arbitrary.
"In some ways it's self-accusatory," says Lawson. "Are we sleepwalking? How engaged are we, really? Can absurd art like ours that doesn't get out there and protest actually make change happen?"
Their most recent show, Phobophilia, looks at life and love in a state of fear, apropos in a decade that saw the horrors of Guantánamo Bay and extraordinary rendition.
Now that there's a new administration in the White House, will a work like this be irrelevant?
"We need to stay vigilant," says Lawson, who goes on to paraphrase Naomi Klein from The Shock Doctrine.
"Memory is the only thing that can propel us forward to action," he says. "If you forget and don't bring things up, you can get hoodwinked."
And just in case you're wondering, the name 2boys.tv, like the artists themselves, is layered and full of surprises. The "boys" part is obvious, and the "tv" can be read as television or transvestite, they tell me.
The title also doubles as their website, albeit one with an exotic and suggestive origin.
"Tv stands for Tuvalu, which is an island in the South Pacific that's sinking," explains Pollard. "They sold off their suffix."
Lawson laughs uncontrollably.
"What a fucking symbol of our decadent Western society, you know?"
On meeting in 1996:
On finding a format and creating in a cabaret setting:
On mixing media:
On getting people to take drag seriously: