If you’re looking for some esoteric high culture, keep an eye out for false lashes and hairy legs. Making the classics accessible to the open-bar crowd, HRH Princess Shequida Ryzell de la Nuit sings opera tunes in full drag, a guy named Tatiana Deblockova does grand jetés in tutus, and now Armen Ra (who sometimes appears as Princess Layla Sheherezade Dovima Stradivaria Zoriah) prances about in couture, giving exclusive little theremin concerts around town. Thorazine concerts? No, we’re talking about the theremin, a fascinating synthesizer wangdoodle, which Ra says “is played by ethereally manipulating electromagnetic sound waves generated by the antenna.” You create beautiful sounds and effects without ever touching the thing—it’s sort of like phone sex!
In male-ish hair and female-ish clothes—”I’m a chic lesbian boy”—the self-taught performer moves his hands high above the instrument in subtle ways that create a simultaneously relaxing and disturbing wail. “It’s Maria Callas combined with Mrs. Miller,” Ra says. “Gorgeous yet sci-fi.” The there-minx told me his mission is to find the notes with his fingers in the middle of the air, “and pray to God I’m on the right millimeter of airspace. The slightest twitch will affect the outcome.” It’s like being John Wayne Bobbitt‘s surgeon! Still, the Iranian-born Armenian’s been determined to theremin-ize the world for a while now, “and the makeup really helps.”
At Starlight Lounge, where he’s doing Thursdays, Ra wore sequined gowns and ruby lipstick as he serenaded us with the suitably haunting themes from The Godfather and Star Trek. “Am I scaring you?” he asked the crowd, which had been lulled into such a trance they weren’t even cruising each other. It was spooky and fabulous—no wonder his Dixon Place bio calls him “one of New York’s leading aesthetes.” Now, where’s that Thorazine concert?
More traditional musical events—you know, where they have to actually touch the synthesizer—haven’t disappointed either, like the Jagger/Richards tribute put on by the Bottom Line’s “The Beat Goes On” series, a sort of exalted Losers’ Lounge, which gave great (oy) satisfaction. Ricky Byrd, Michael Le Monde, and other pesky pros got to the heart of the wit, sex, and yearning of Mick and Keith—and they were sober.
Karen Black—that culty actress from rentable weirdies like Portnoy’s Complaint and Trilogy of Terror—is high on life, thank you, so when she took her cabaret act to Joe’s Pub the other night, I was right in her face, honey. The PR description alone was riveting, saying that Karen plays characters like a pregnant teen and a black Mississippi Delta woman, using material by Sondheim, Bowie, and Katherine Anne Porter. What’s more, the show was directed by her fellow Easy Rider whore, Toni (“Hey Mickey, you’re so fine”) Basil. Enough said!
The result? I can’t decide, except to say that Black throws herself into her characters with such gusto you can’t tell if she’s unspeakably hammy or utterly inspired. Her voice swoops from a Betty Boop screech to a gravelly bellow, and you wisely start to listen less for musicality than vigor. But when she plays herself and admits, “I lost my son—not to death, but to my ex-husband,” things do get really interesting. (As in Airport ’75, she truly lands the plane cross-eyed.)
Joe’s Pub, by the way, is a ka-ching palace, where the bartenders loudly mix cocktails all through the show, disrupting all the tender moments (and my own talking to friends). Even ickier, the second the star exits, an announcement is made urging you to get out so they can pave the way for “another sold-out show.” And even press people have to pay for drinks! (At least the star presumably benefits from some of this grotesque penny-pinching.)
I got free drink tickets at the Stonewall Bar, only to find out too late that they’re only valid at the bar, not at the tables! Buzzing (and fuming) from my $4 Diet Coke, I went upstairs, where guys were licking whipped cream off a seminude porn star, proving once again that we can be every bit as inane as the heteros. The stud—one of New York’s leading aesthetes—was named Caesar, and though I’ve always loved Caesar’s dressing, here everyone was cheering for Caesar’s un-dressing, ha-ha-ha.
At Fez, clothes are worn, but clearly name tags are needed. At the underground joint recently, Parker Posey thought Time Out‘s Cathay Che was Margaret Cho and winsomely started chatting her up. Mid gush, Che broke it to the actress that she’s not Cho, prompting Posey to admit, “I get Mary-Louise Parker and Kate Beckinsale.” (Funny, I get Star Jones and Danny DeVito.)
More names? As Page Six reported, HRH Princess Diandra—the drag queen, not Michael Douglas‘s ex—just tussled with David LaChapelle at Lucky Cheng’s, creating electromagnetic sound waves that had people running. The fab but excitable Diandra was mad that her image was cut out of a Rolling Stone group shot LaChapelle once took, so she tossed a drink in his face, using his eyeballs as martini olives. (Remember, Diandra’s the one who screamed “you hideous has-been woman” at Diana Ross during Ross’s last concert and was dragged off a platform by security.)
LaChapelle’s muse, Amanda Lepore, tells me the photog’s eyes were stung by the booze, and as he went to leave, Diandra followed him wielding a bottle. “The bouncer said, ‘Here she goes again,’ ” related Lepore. “But David had nothing to do with her being cut out of the photo. And I think she left the shoot in the middle anyway because they wanted her to wear something different.” Still, for Diandra to waste liquor, she must have been upset. (PS: She’s extra pissed now that she was fired from Cheng’s.)
A tawdry scene also tainted “Tulips & Pansies,” a floral headdress competition at the Supper Club, benefiting Village Care of New York and featuring Shequida singing “Pie Jesu.” Backstage, the model for Ron Chereskin was heard screaming on the phone, “I’m a professional! I’m not modeling with drag queens!” before taking his mucho macho heinie out the door. The hunky boyfriend of Danny (Who’s the Boss?) Pintauro gamely stepped into the abandoned outfit and saved the day, as everyone wondered what the original doof thought he’d be getting at an AIDS benefit named “Tulips & Pansies.”
Anyway, Danny told me he met his beau at the Starlight Lounge last year (on non-theremin night) and now they’re so tight they’re planning a European getaway. “I already know where all the bathhouses are!” the boyfriend blurted. Wait—do they have an open relationship? “A closed open relationship,” said Danny, meaning that Three’s Company is more than a sitcom title to them. (But I still wonder who’s the boss.)
Never a sitcom, though it was a TV special, a book, and an album, Free to Be . . . You and Me, is now a stage musical with four grown-ups practically handing you money in their eagerness to put over all the gags and messages. They’re cute, but the result is more sci-fi than gorgeous.
More fiction than science was the AP obit of designer Bill Blass: “Blass, who was never married, won women over with his designs and his charm. . . . New York fashion guru Nan Kempner once said, ‘I fell in love with him, like every woman.’ ” Oy.
And now, anyone wanna start a Thora Birch mag and call it Thorazine?
EXTRA ITEM: At a Paper party at the Dior store last week, everyone gagged when one of the As Four designers entered all sequined and in a wheelchair. “How far will these freaks go to make a fashion statement?” all the fashionistas started murmuring, a tad jealously. But it turned out the guy had really hurt himself, and poetically, too. His bag had gotten stuck in a tree (long story), and he got injured trying to climb the thing and get it back. That’s how I want to die—reaching for an accessory!
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 18, 2002