Who: Penny Arcade (aka Susana Ventura)
Where: RCC Fringe, Scott Theatre
When: 15th – 23rd Feb
Cost: Tickets starting at $20 (see website for details and purchasing)
Warning: strobe lights, smoke machine, strong language, sexual content, nudity
I didn’t really do much research before going to see this show, but, helpfully, as you enter the room for this show, erotic dancers perform on stage and around the auditorium: it’s pretty obvious from the beginning what Penny Arcade: B*tch! D*ke! F*aghag! Wh*re! is going to be about. Penny Arcade herself is a legend of the New York avant-garde queer scene, and she returns to Australia with this, her most successful cabaret, which she happily tells us was first performed at the Adelaide Festival in 1994. “And,” she yells, “just like in 1994, as soon as I got here, I went to Hindley Street to get my strippers! These are your people, Adelaide!” The dancers are all amazing performers, sexy and powerful, who continue to perform throughout the show, and having local performers in the show adds a feeling of a global community of sexual liberation.
That said, some of the show does still seem to come from 1994. While some of Arcade’s monologues are still shockingly modern, other moments, particularly where Arcade bemoans the current state of the queer scene, seemed a bit ‘back in my day…’ However, Arcade (who is also doing a talk Thurs 21/2 about her ‘dangerous ideas’) doesn’t dwell overly long on this criticism, focusing, in the end, of the universality of love, and the need to dispense with hatred on all sides. Some sections, such as the monologue Arcade performs about the tragedy of the AIDS crisis, and the deaths of so many of her loved ones, are heartbreaking, while others are raucously funny (in particular the act in which Arcade acts the role of the woman who runs the phones in a brothel). The audience takes the stage at one point to dance with the erotic dancers to Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’ (you don’t have to go up, but trust me, you’ll enjoy it). The final act, which Arcade had warned from the outset could be considered ‘controversial’ wasn’t quite as controversial as I expected (I can see why others might think that though) – I actually thought it was a profound ending to a show in which Arcade had railed against censorship and sexual repression.
While the narrative of the show seems slightly incoherent, the overall message Arcade is giving us (sometimes yelling at us) is not: a message of free expression, sexual liberation, queer freedom, and love. You can disagree with some of her ideas, but that is sort of the point. This show is not for everyone, but if you’re up for a challenging show that will make you think hard about your politics, give this one a go.