The aging process brings on, it is true, a few wrinkles. It
also seems to nurture a candor that is suppressed in earlier years by some
sort of editing device in the human brain. If this device stops functioning
while the rest of the brain continues to operate at full force, vivid insights
can be revealed. When, as is the case with Quentin Crisp, this scenario
is married with a sharp wit, great things can happen.
An Evening with Quentin Crisp
Crisp's solo Evening, presented on the occasion of his 90th birthday,
is a reprise of his 1978 Drama Desk Award-winning show. (It had a brief
but popular revival this past summer downtown.) Although his penchant for
quotable quotes might lead one to expect an evening of entertaining but
free-form Wildean epigrams, Crisp has a very precise, distinct message
for his audience. The philosophy it expresses leads to little admiration
of Wilde. It could be summarized: to thine own self be true, and to others,
The show is divided into two parts. Before the intermission, Crisp sits
in a comfortable chair and astutely imparts his wisdom. Part preacher,
part professor and part camp counselor, his humor is the glue that holds
the audience's attention. After the intermission, he returns to answer
audience questions, which audience members have either written on cards
and may ask from their seats.
Having lived most of this century and, until twenty years ago, in England,
Crisp possesses a particularly intriguing perspective. He seems perplexed
-- but not surprised -- that America's unbounded freedom has not been a
recipe for happiness. He insists that, for such happiness, we must look
inward, and create an honest self-image. "All concealment," he tells us,
"is wrong". By all accounts, he is living proof of his theory.
Crisp's approach makes exuberant praise of his work seem hyperbolic.
When told he is witty, he demurs. He says his portfolio of ideas is a limited
one; if he seems clever and glib, he would say, it is from practice. Perhaps
so, but then practice indeed makes perfect. In the first half of the show,
he has the audience laughing as he instructs in the fine art of controlling
an interview -- turning any question around to suit a prepared anecdote.
Then, in the question-and-answer period, he nimbly answers anything asked
of him, with clever responses he probably concocted years before the questioner
Seems he also practices what he preaches.
Crisp has crafted a harmonious balance that seems to propel him ever
forward and upward. He can be brutally opinionated without being hurtful,
naughty but not unwholesome, honest yet mannered. He exudes a warmth of
spirit that's contagious. Small wonder his audience leaves smiling and
a bit uplifted, even on a blisteringly cold winter night.
|AN EVENING WITH QUENTIN CRISP
by and starring Quentin Crisp
Set Design: Rob Wolin
Lighting Design: Scott Davis
Music: Thomas Hasselwander
Intar Theater, 420 West 42nd Street (9th/10th AV) (212) 330-7200
opened December 25, 1998; closing January 31, 1999.
Seen January 2, 1999 and reviewed by Les
Gutman January 4, 1999