Trigger Happy!, storytelling performance artist Dandy Darkly’s newest work, is a mesmerizingly entertaining, dark-toned foray into social criticism, a post-mortem on a still-living patient: America. The themes Mr. Darkly selected for his autopsy are in the media on a daily basis. The opinion page in The New York Times, Salon, and the Huffington Post supply daily missives about damaged U.S. soldiers returning from perversely unfocused wars, our cult of celebrity, gentrification neutering a once vibrantly inclusive social scene, and how political correctness police act to straightjacket open social discourse. Mr. Darkly's richly detailed, outrageous, and metaphoric tales examine these themes with an exactitude whose impact leaves our conventional media eating dust -- and his audience breathless with both awe and laughter.
In glittering black cowboy attire, with artful touches of clown makeup on his face and a pair of pearl-handed pistols on his hips, Darkly, after declaring that we Americans are an ever-happy people (I mean, really, really happy people), launches into his prose poetical diatribe on contemporary American life. This is embodied in four succinct and tour-de-force stories. Witnessing one of Dandy Darkly's shows is completely experiential, and thus a bit hard to capture on paper and do his work justice. His tales fly by, sometimes at lightening speed but always clearly articulated, taking the listener down one road and then another, creating shifting moods infused with ever-fresh and unexpected twists and turns. The total effect is giddily mesmerizing. Yet, embedded in the darkly humor-laden narrative, this storyteller is communicating the profound absurdity of being a 21st century American.
The impact of Mr. Darkly's performance is heightened and enhanced by the original music provided by the talented team of Adam Tendler, Rachel Blumberg, Jeffrey Underhill, and Bryce Edwards, and his perfectly timed and meticulously delivered performance was directed by Ian Bjorklund.
The first tale, entitled "Silver Dollar," is about a nightmare-plagued veteran sniper, Otis Moonshine, who suffers from the severest convoluted Post-Traumatic Distress Syndrome imaginable. His life has fallen apart, and he’s lost his job and wife. He plans to massacre werewolves (allegorical figures for the fags) and struggles with uncomfortable gay tendencies. Otis has amassed an arsenal of weaponry to commit mass murder at a werewolf wedding, and his bloody task shall be commenced or called-off at the flip of his lucky silver dollar.
In his second tale, the cult of celebrity is eviscerated in "Final Girl," the story of a film scream queen, Virginia Titsworth. From the '60s to the '90s, she gains celebrity in a series of highly lucrative "poverty-row" movie studio Final Girl slasher films, and then moves on to success in reality TV. Her highly publicized personal life and her addictions and breakdowns (including her stint at the Santa Clara Home for Nervous Women) earn her high standing on social media. Her life is summed up in her (of course) best-selling autobiography Final Woman, in which she writes: "Final Girl was where I truly discovered myself as an actress. Mr. Johnson [my director] gave me permission to act like a woman -- to run and hide and scream, usually half-naked and covered in blood. And for that I owe him everything." Need one say more?
In "American Apparel," Mr. Darkly's most metaphorical narrative, gentrification is explored from the point-of-view of a stylish rat named Bidet, who nightly emerges from her home (a trashcan) and, dolled up in drag, performs at the once glamorous (and now abandoned and derelict) Imperial Poppycock Saloon, founded in 1901, the first gay bar in America. Our new era arrives and gentrifiers take hold of the property -- and the thrill, the fun, is gone. Why did Bidet and others love The Poppycock in the first place? It was because "everyone from the millionaire movie stars to the bridge-and-tunnel Cinderellas, all the way down to the rats in the cellar--everyone under her roof was family."
The final telling is a poem entitled "Ghosts of Stonewall," which commences with:
Mr. Darkly implores his listeners to move beyond political correctness and the conventional wisdom of officially written history. The poem conveys what the fight at Stonewall meant (and could further mean) for the demolition of "business as usual," and the guarantee of personal and civil liberties for all Americans. The poem concludes with:
Dandy Darkly's Trigger Happy is a bright spot on the map of our culturally convoluted country. I urge you to catch his next luminous appearance. - Jay Reisberg
(Check Dandy Darkly for the next opportunity to experience this unforgettable performer)
Photo by Bobby Miller
Mr. Reisberg is a UCLA film school grad, professional singer, comedian, and bon vivant at large.