Revenge of the Popinjay, which played Club PuSh last night in a co-presentation between the PuSh Festival and Zee Zee Theatre, takes the idea of art-as-therapy to an extreme. Created by AnimalParts, a New York-based collective founded by local Studio 58 grads Anthony Johnston and Nathan Schwartz, the show has an interesting premise. What happens when you take the historically homophobic genres of hip hop and the serial killer film and reverse the dominant ideology underscoring them? Thus it is that we are presented with the story Anthony, a gay man living in New York with his boyfriend (also named Anthony) who gets mixed up with the Popinjay, an underground queer rapper who also seems to be targeting heterosexuals in the city, chopping up their bodies and throwing them in the East River.
Johnston, who plays all the roles, and Schwartz, who DJs from the stage, do not shy away from representing the reverse politics of hate, with the Popinjay's climactic blood-spattered call to Anthony and the rest of us in the audience to join his rampage identifying potential targets whose names deliberately resonate a little too close to home. At the same time, I couldn't always see, on a formal level, how this revenge fantasy was related to the other through-line of the show, which involves Anthony trying to work through his grief over his dead sister. Indeed, the show ends with a video montage that explicitly dedicates the show to Johnston's own deceased sibling.
The autobiographical framing invites us to interpret the work as a surreal version of the talking cure (and, indeed, we are introduced to Anthony's sexy female therapist, who in a twist on De Palma's Dressed to Kill, becomes one of the Popinjay's victims). And while there's nothing wrong with working out one's demons on stage, it strikes me that whatever social critique is embedded in the piece's "heterophobic satire" ends up blunted by the reinforcing of the frame of family romance.