photo of the day 10/17/2011. photo © Mark I Chester.
Helen Shumaker in Philip-Dimitri Galas' "Mona Rodgers in Person", 1/1986
In my early teens, i was allowed to choose my own birthday gift. I chose a season subscription to the Fred Miller Theater, Milwaukee's professional theater company. Where other boys my age wanted sports gear, model airplanes, bikes and other such representations of young virility and heterosexuality, I chose to sit in the dark and watch theater. When I think about it, I was gay before I had any idea that I was gay, but my parents knew. They just kept silent hoping it would be a phase. At 61, nope, sorry, it's not a phase. ;)
Philip's name may sound familiar because his sister is Diamanda Galas. Philip was an incredible actor and playwright and he was just on the verge of breaking out and being recognized. By the time he wrote Mona Rodgers for Helen, he knew that he would never perform on stage again and he died later that year from AIDS. He called his performance pieces Avant-Vaudeville and I had never seen anything like it and I haven't really seen anything quite like it since. Philip was born to write theater and unlike most playwrights, he was as skilled at movement as he was at words. His work is funny, sarcastic, intense, challenging and political. Beautifully Brutal.
Originally Mona Rodgers was *his* character and he performed it in drag. When he first performed it in San Francisco at 544 Natoma Performance Gallery, he was afraid that San Franciscans wouldn't *get* the character and might be offended that he played it in drag. So, he instead chose to use a blow up doll as a metaphor for Mona. Little did Philip realize that his Mona in drag was just ripe for San Francisco. Yes, we were as artistically and sexually adventurous as San Diego. <eg>