Review: They Took Me To A Queer Bar (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Sep 6 – 10, 2022
Writer/Performer: Tommy Misa
Performance Guide: Emma Maye Gibson
Images by Joseph Mayers

Theatre review

Like many queer people, Tommy Misa comes from a history of ostracism. That common experience of marginalisation however, leads us to forming communities, some of which manifest in bonds stronger than those found in biological families. Misa’s one-person show is about that human need to belong, and that search for a sanctuary, in order that one may feel a sense of validation and acceptance.

They Took Me to a Queer Bar is a partially autobiographical work, involving a nightclub named Auntie Lavender’s and a drag queen elder Caramello Koala. Misa demonstrates great reverence for both, whilst trying to grapple with the realities of being a queer person-of-colour, connected to Samoa and to Gadigal. Existing in and between both places, yet experiencing a lifetime of rejection, Misa seems only to be able to locate a wholeness and perhaps become self-actualised, after discovering the people of Auntie Lavender’s.

It is a soulful work, with authenticity emerging from the simplicity with which Misa tells their story. There is wonderful humour informed by the irony, that figures centrally in Misa’s attitudes about life in general, the kind that queer and other marginalised people will surely recognise and identify with. Their expressions can be poetic, but are also mundane, and at times vulgar. At just an hour, Misa’s presentation is a sampler of who they are, and an offering of what our values might be, as queer people who have to rely on each other.

Misa’s performance of the work, is heavily dependent on their charisma, which proves limitless. Their captivating presence, is given excellent shape and nuance, by performance guide Emma Maye Gibson, who ensures that every subtle resonance is unmissed. Much is conveyed between the lines, in a work that exemplifies the power of intimate live theatre.

Set design by Misa and Lyndsay Noyes is effective in helping our attention concentrate on the only physicality that matters in this show, which is the performer’s body. Also meaningful, is a garment that appears late in the piece, created by Nicol & Ford, exuding decadence and making a statement about our history as outsiders. Exquisite lights by Frankie Clarke are almost psychedelic in style, tuning the viewers’ mind to a dreamlike frequency, whilst using colour and movement to suggest the characteristic flamboyance of those incapable of being straight. Sound and music by Jonny Seymour glistens, moves and unifies, adding a dimension of sumptuous transcendence to the communal event.

People who have been excluded and made to feel unworthy, will either regurgitate that same venom (onto others and themselves), or they will become capable of being the most loving of all. It is perhaps miraculous, that those who have been so thoroughly broken, can be the ones who do the most for the world. Similarly, it is astonishing to realise that the greatest pride, resides where the most abominable shame used to be. They Took Me to a Queer Bar shows just how unfair things are, but for those who have come out the other end triumphant, there is no better place to be.