There was no harbour view, no Opera House and only a vague sense of a public (read: hetero) space queerly reclaimed. But -“ this is a big but and I cannot lie -“ there were heaps and heaps of shiny, happy gay men (and dykes and tranys and so on). Yes, with my serious cultural hat on I could argue a small thesisful of reasons why the Mardi Gras festival is important, but one vital factor in the festival’s appeal and value is providing a myriad of different contexts in which to glitter and be gay. On this level at the very least the Mardi Gras launch was every bit as successful as every other launch I’ve attended: there was a buzzing sense of -“ dare I say it -“ community. This year there was also an unexpected bonus -“ the awareness that the launch only worked because we were there. Speaking with organisers at the event I could almost smell their relief. This was a symbolic occasion, a positive answer to the unspoken question, What if we gave a Mardi Gras and nobody came? We came, we saw, we shook booty and hit the bars like queens (re)possessed.
The mood was more serious at the Darlinghurst Theatre for the opening of local wordsmith Alana Valentine’s Savage Grace, the first production of one of her plays staged in Sydney. Savage Grace was previously performed in Adelaide and Perth, so the production promised to be slick and settled.
Savage Grace works almost in spite of itself. A two-hander on the subject of euthanasia, the play could have been realised with a dull ping-pong-like theatricality, but for the skilful direction of Sally Richardson and courageous performances by Humphrey Bower and Gibson Nolte.
The story is simple in dramatic action but more complex in theme. An American HIV specialist called Tex (Nolte) is confronted by an Australian ethics professor, Robert (Bower), when Tex is suspected of euthanasing a terminally ill patient.
The framing of the debate may be too contrived for some, but the emotional journeys of the characters for me lifted the production above the didactic. It’s also a sign of the times that HIV/AIDS is not really central to the work, despite being the catalyst of the drama. Any number of other illnesses might have been substituted, as the text spread weblike from worlds local to spiritual. This is the best play staged during a Mardi Gras festival for many years and deserves patronage.
Back in launchville at the Powerhouse Museum, and a slightly seedy crowd gathered on Sunday for the opening of the Mazz Image exhibition You And Mardi Gras. There was plenty of that community vibe, Julie McCrossin gave a lengthy analysis of the film The Children’s Hour that was surely only loosely related and Mazz acknowledged her supporters in a haze of jacaranda gratitude. Then came the real pay-off: Verushka Darling in Mazz drag, taking photos with an oversized foam camera prop as Claire de Lune and Portia Turbo battled for celluloid immortality. Darling might have been a good foot taller than Ms Image, but otherwise captured Mazz’s look with an almost photo-realism. Surreal.
Finally, it was back in the theatre for the revival/reworking of Campion Decent’s 1993 play Three Winters Green. Monday night at 6:30pm wasn’t an ideal time to catch the show, but it was pleasing to note a substantial and enthusiastic crowd was in attendance. There was also more of that vibe, in the form of who is that hot guy in the glasses and blue T-shirt?. But I digress.
Three Winters Green fulfilled the brief of the gay play. Decent framed what might have been an unsalvageable AIDS tragicomedy with scenes set in 2003, complete with Kushner-esque angels watching blithely on. The device provides just enough narrative distance, although the production veers close to cutesy nostalgia throughout. Weak direction and staging don’t help, but there are strong performances by Trisha Noble and Gerry Sont, while newcomer Hayden Tee’s drag queen is brash and funny.
The crowd also relished the home – ghetto references, which included amyl nitrate being mistaken for vanilla essence and countless nods to the musical Gypsy. If Valentine’s work looked outward, Decent’s work was insular and unambitious -“ although these are not necessarily criticisms. It’s what Mardi Gras festivals are (or should be) all about: a chance to see our own lives boldly represented on stage, on canvas and on the streets.
Savage Grace runs until 22 February at the Darlinghurst Theatre, Potts Point. Tickets cost $27 or $21 and may be booked on 8356 9987. Three Winters Green runs until 1 March at the Stables Theatre, Kings Cross. Tickets range from $22 to $38 and may be booked on 9250 7799.
You And Mardi Gras is showing at the Powerhouse Museum, Ultimo until 16 March. Entry to the museum is $10. Mazz’s book is available at the Bookshop Darlinghurst, the Star’s office or at www.mazzimage.com.