First, a warning to downtown nostalgia-freaks drawn in by the poster: the Penny Arcade you see there isn't exactly the Penny Arcade in her show. In earlier incarnations the ebullient solo Longing Lasts Longer, the performance artist wears a red Cleopatra bob and va-va-voomy polka dots—our eternally youthful, Warholian Betty Boop. That's the Arcade we remember from irrepressible, maximalist 1990s provocations such as Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore! But in the Longing currently at St. Ann's Warehouse, Arcade appears in a pink lace blouse, silvery hair and zippy white slacks. She's still talking about how to survive a beating on the street, about being “so queer I'm not even gay.” But it's not the old days anymore. Arcade is here to hammer the nostalgia impulse into smithereens—and to do it, she’s embracing middle age, hugging it so tight she must have missed it like crazy.
The enchained monologues of Longing contain plenty of inspirations: a call to greater resilience, which Arcade illustrates with memories of her mal vivant days with Candy Darling, and a cheerful embrace of single-dom. (“Who gives you the best birthday presents? You! Who thinks every idea you have is great? You!”) There's material demanding we shake off our suffocating media-blanket, and she can be hell on millennials. Yet I found the most uplift simply from the central notion of a Village Hero, delighted to be in her mid-sixties and operating with the throttle wide open.
Arcade again works with her collaborator Steve Zehentner, who DJs from the side. As he feeds her songs and lighting designer Justin Townsend pumps up the rock-atmosphere, Arcade dances. She bounces around on rubber soles, licking her chops as she rails against “gentrification of the mind” and the mall-ification of New York. She's almost always doing some version of the Pony, hopping in circles (“The knee is working great!”) as she tries to spur us to greater authenticity. She can also be distracted by the silliest things: diving through the lighting effects (“Look! Fuchsia!”) and laughing throatily at the front row. (It was full of millennials.) But she alternates her charm with wake-up calls, her humor with rage. Arcade in her marvelous middle age is a lovely example to us all. Yes, you've got to tell all your truth to power, but you don't have to stop dancing to do it.
St. Ann's Warehouse (Off Broadway). Written and performed by Penny Arcade. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission. Through Dec 11. Click here for full ticket and venue information.
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