Dreaming Erotica with GENET PORNO

Joe Joseph, Yvan Greenberg, and Oleg Dubson. Photo by Paula Court

Joe Joseph, Yvan Greenberg, and Oleg Dubson. Photo by Paula Court

Pushing boundaries was at the heart of Jean Genet’s seminal literary work, Our Lady of the Flowers, which weaves a highly sensational tale of promiscuity and murder in the seedy underbelly of Paris. Our Lady of the Flowers, written in 1943, became a major influence on the Beat Generation and on mid-century gay culture but was decried by the mainstream literary world as pornographic. In trying to interpret Genet’s legacy through a 21st century lens but to push the same buttons, playwright and actor Yvan Greenberg contrasts confessional v-loggers shooting online porn. Slowly, the radical lives of today’s gay sex workers on the fringe meld into the words and aesthetic of Genet’s book, creating a hazy atmosphere rife with sex, betrayal, and death. Genet Porno runs at the HERE Arts Center this September as the second installment in Greenberg’s trilogy on influential gay authors.

The tale begins with modern porn star Damon Dogg (Greenberg), naked, describing his day in a confessional blog to the audience. His mundane musings turn ethereal quickly, as he runs into Divine (Oleg Dubson), the perfectly tragic drag queen that defines Genet’s original novel. Dubson flirts and fights with her lover and pimp, played by Joe Joseph, until the three are entangled in a love triangle. Featuring comically large strap-ons and goofy special effects gushing from you-know-where, Genet Porno has no problem venturing into the realm of the obscene.

Greenberg’s gifted choreography drives this movement-theatre piece, allowing one to escape pleasantly into the smutty fantasies that guide the characters. Coupled with multimedia effects and the booming broadcast of Genet’s words, it feels like a polished erotic ballet. The perspective shifts from Divine’s florid monologues to Damon Dogg’s rambling stream of consciousness proceed in a cinematic haze. Once firmly entrenched in the dreary routine of cigarette breaks and trips to the corner store, Damon Dogg comes alive when the allure of absurdly fantastical sex comes his way. As Damon Dogg prepares to shoot an online porno, he finds himself drifting back and forth between Genet’s fantasy world and his lived reality.

And perhaps the mix of poeticism from Genet and sardonic realism from Greenberg’s modern character is meant to uncover the odd relationship between daily life and pornographic material. The larger-than-life sex props and prolonged raunchy choreography exposes just how inanely hedonistic the appetite for porn can be. A particularly bright interpretation comes from Dubson, who plays Divine with a devout precision to the character’s tics and flourishes. Like Blanche DuBois, Dubson portrays Divine as a figure both dignified and tragic, using deliciously overwrought gestures to create a painstaking picture of melodrama.

But it’s uncertain where Greenberg is going with this concept as the story unfurls, and the links between Genet’s brilliant novel and today’s cyber age become lost in bouts of messy pacing and tone. The shock value of the show’s sexy subject begins to lose its edge after watching a gratuitous amount of thrusts and moans. As the performance cascades to a frenzied climax, there is little in the way of orgasmic revelation about life on the gay fringe.

Genet Porno takes a daring stab at charting Genet’s influence. Though the aesthetics of the performance spare no sensual detail, more clarity about the subject may be needed to truly raise some eyebrows.

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