Well, it’s been a few decades since my first (and only) toga party. Last night, I felt as if I were crashing one. A friend of mine took me to a way-off Broadway production of a play called A Kiss from Alexander (book and lyrics by Stephan de Ghelder; music by Brad Simmons). Billed as a “musical fantasy,” it is essentially a backstage stabbing farce—say, All About Abs—wrapped in romance and sentiment. Its tone is considerably less even than the spray tan on the cast’s collective hide.
Borrowing from the Rita Hayworth vehicle Down to Earth, which it references, this gay Band Wagon rolls along merrily enough, confident in attracting an audience steeped in Hollywood myth, in Broadway lore as well as lingo. “Alexander technique,” for instance, which served as a pun in the play, is a way of learning how to rid the body of tension. Alternative culture has been doing just that by leaning on traditions that produce anxieties, irreverence being the release.
Art not quite sure of its standing tends to be self-conscious. Witnessing the return of Alexander the Great in his mission to sabotage a bawdy, low-fidelity account of his private life (in a production called “Alexander Was Great!”), I was reminded of Norman Corwin’s radio fantasy “A Descent of the Gods.” In it, the god of Trivia recalls how Venus, Mars, and Apollo visited Earth, and how they were embraced and degraded by the media, the least respected and most prominent of which being the one in which poet-journalist Corwin operated.
By now, the god of Trivia has been knocked off his throne by the god of Camp. And while I am not a worshipper of either, it is difficult to deny the force of the latter.