Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jul 12 – 23, 2016
Playwright: Tim Fountain
Director: Gary Abrahams
Cast: Paul Capsis
Quentin Crisp is the original and quintessential queer icon of our modern times. Wildly flamboyant and tenaciously outsider, he has left behind a legacy not only of words, but also an attitude and perspective of life that remains cutting edge and inspiring for subsequent generations that continue to be oppressed by the bourgeoisie and its prejudicial values. Tim Fountain’s Resident Alien is eighty minutes of extraordinary wit, unparalleled wisdom and genius observational comedy. Many of the standout lines are familiar to Crisp fans, whether lifted verbatim from his writing and interviews, or simply an accurate representation by Fountain of our memory of the hero. The monologue however, is more than a piece of nostalgic resurrection. It introduces shades of human emotionality to a character who was resolute in presenting a frosty and severe image. The British gentleman is given an opportunity to reveal his tender and vulnerable sides in Resident Alien, so that we can find an even deeper connection through the ever reliable mechanism of sentimentality.
It is a gorgeous production, designed by Romanie Harper (costumes and set) and Rob Sowinski (lights) who provide us with all the visual cues necessary to imagine the decrepit bedroom in which Crisp dwelled, while creating a sense of decadent drama that befits our protagonist, and bringing to sharp focus the physical subject of this monologue presentation. Paul Capsis is the star, captivating, glamorous and alluring with a kind of magnetism that we all desire but rarely encounter. There are efforts at mimicry, but we quickly give up on analysing the impersonation, and delve instead into the glorious essence that Capsis presents on stage, operatic in scale with his bodily and facial gestures, along with a bewitching voice that turns every syllable into song.
We see both Capsis and Crisp, or perhaps more than that, we see ourselves in Resident Alien. It is the meanings that become important. Director Gary Abrahams understands that personality and style are the weapons of seduction, but they play second fiddle to the words that attack with fierce resonance to shake us out of our drear realities. We came to be close to a legend, but are gifted instead a profound and subversive confrontation of our selves, as was Crisp’s very principle for his own existence. His facade was extravagant but flimsy, perhaps intentionally so, so that we can access the truths behind, that his mighty erudition was so generous to offer. Abrahams does the same. His cosmetics are delightful but transparent, allowing us to leave not only with insight into a celebrity’s biography, but the greatest lessons Crisp had learned through 91 years on this earth. His was a theatrical life that always had room for an audience, and the performance was about the alleviation of suffering and a disruption to prejudice. It is the most noble kind of theatre we can hope for, and in Resident Alien, his work lives on.