Friday, November 2, 2018

prettygirl264264 checks in from Abrons Arts Center

Ashley R.T. Yergens
in character for prettygirl264264
(photo: Fred Attenborough)

What you focus on increases. Or, maybe it's, What you focus on expands. Or what...ever.

That favored quote of New Agey savants came to mind at last evening's world premiere of prettygirl264264, when I gauged the distance--physical and otherwise--between trans performance artist Ashley R.T. Yergens and a flat screen television displaying appearances by singer Cher, the late Sono Bono and their trans son Chaz Bono. My interest in Sonny and Cher had faded out quite early, with their pop star heyday and my youth, and has not made a miraculous recovery in the current age of celebrity tv and Twitter. So, I was content to train nearly undivided attention on the present moment and the live action before us at Abrons Arts Center where the Underground Theater's floor was nearly blanketed by a cheery layer of party balloons. Yes, party balloons for something Yergens billed as his "premature funeral."

The service served an atypical "In Loving Memory Of" funeral card in lieu of a program. The dearly not-quite-yet-departed took a while to appear, the buildup to that appearance including a standout, if painful, performance of "It's All Coming Back to Me Now" by lily bo shapiro, dolled up in gleaming, cherry pink unitard and oversized, rhinestone-encrusted glasses. Yes, a Celine Dion anthem at a premature funeral where evocation of Judy Garland's connection to blackface, Sonny Bono's death by skiing into a tree, and a full-out dance duet routine to La Bouche's "Be My Lover" are not only inevitable but completely appropriate.

Not too long ago, I read a New York Times obituary that told the story of how the late actor James Karen asked his buddies, unbeknownst to one another, to draft his obit long before he actually passed. His wife finally revealed to one friend, George Clooney, that Karen had a habit of doing this so that he'd be around to enjoy what people thought of him. Not a terrible idea. And, in his way, Yergens is doing the same--inviting us in to indulge one trans man's moment of celebration and to contemplate how rare acknowledgement and celebration can be at the end of many trans lives.

If neither the celebs onscreen (one, a "gay icon" who is cisgender and straight; the other, an early, selective and reluctant object of mainstream media spotlight on trans lives) can fairly represent the range of trans experience, neither can Yergens, keenly aware of his white, able-bodied visibility and privilege. prettygirl264264--the title comes from an old AOL handle--speaks from a particular sliver of experience and sensibilities, bringing wry lightheartedness in a time of serious political struggle. And, yes, we need that contribution, too.

Video: Rena Anakwe

Performers: Sydney Boyu, Nico Brown, lily bo shapiro, Mur, Kristopher K.Q. Pourzal, Ashley R.T. Yergens

Lighting: Jennifer Fok

Original Music: Trashed My Living Room and ErasedMur

prettygirl264264 continues tonight and Saturday evening with performances at 7:30pm. 50% of ticket sales benefit trans rights organizations. Although both performances have sold out, Abrons promises to get some walkups in. So try for it! For information, click here.

Abrons Arts Center
466 Grand Street (at Pitt Street), Manhattan
(Plan your visit.)

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DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve as Senior Curatorial Director of Gibney. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.

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