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A CurtainUp Review

Resident Alien<

To life! A funny thing that happens to you on the way to the grave-- Bette Bourne, a.k.a. Quentin Crisp

 Betty Bourne
Betty Bourne
 Quentin Crisp
Quentin Crisp
Quentin Crisp, who once called himself "one of the stately homos of England" always yearned to live in America. He was past seventy with a carefully constructed public character well established by the time he became one of New York's most infamously famous resident aliens. His reputation was nurtured by his seemingly bottomless well of witty aphorism and flamboyant appearance. The attention-getting makeup, hand-me-down clothes dressed up with jauntily angled black Stetson, colorful scarves, and rhinestone brooch were admittedly his way of being a "leaflet thrust into the hands of astonished bystanders."

The last couple of decades of Crisp's life were spent in a Manhattan tenement room which he notoriously refused to clean on the grounds that such domestic pursuits detracted from the more important journey to the interior. Now, just a short walk from Crisp's dirty and cluttered digs, set designer Neil Patel has re-created that room in all its scruffy messiness on the stage of the New York Theatre Workshop. And to discourse on housekeeping ("After the first four years the dust doesn't get any worse. It's just a question of holding your nerve") as well as style, homosexuality, marriage, loneliness, boredom, fame, television and the internet, we have a friend of Crisp's the drag actor Bette Bourne (also an outspoken homosexual and founder of the Bloolips queer theater group).

Though Fountain, wrote this monologue specifically for Bourne while Crisp was still alive and doing his own one-man show, An Evening With Quentin Crisp (he died while touring with it in Manchester in 1999, before he could see Bourne in Resident Alien) he had Crisp's permission to freely scavenge his published writings. Now that the dashing "naked civil servant" has departed from the world that was his stage, Resident Alien, has become a combination tribute and obituary.

Bourne is a more affected performer than his subject was, but his portrait is unquestionably affectionate. It is also quite remarkable in that it conveys the overall Crisp persona -- the humor, the intense gaze and the pain and awkwardness of living "years longer than it took his shoes to wear out." and his wardrobe to become threadbare.

Anyone familiar with Crisp's many pronouncements on life, especially those who caught him in An Evening With Quentin Crisp, will find nothing very new in Resident Alien. An Evening With Quentin Crisp, while also a monologue in two acts, had a somewhat more dynamic structure, with part one a lecture and part two having Crisp respond to cards with questions from the audience. Resident Alien, is built around a lunch with some unknown admirers, a typical outing for the aging celebrity. As Crisp gets ready he muses about life. His lunch dates never arrive but the phone rings with another lunch invitation. The action consists of getting dressed, the occasional arrival of a dead mouse shoved through the mail slot by a neighbor, and Crisp preparing lunch after the cancelled date -- a moldy potato and egg cooked on a hot plate (Crisp wryly commenting as he takes the egg out of the otherwise empty refrigerator "who says life is devoid of possibility? Scrambled, boiled, poached or fried.")

Director Mike Bradwell, who has brought Resident Alien to New York along with Howie the Rookie (also reviewed by CurtainUp), clearly has a feel for finely detailing the monologue play. Just watch the snow ( courtesy of lighting designer Brian MacDevitt) blending with the grime on the windows at the beginning of each act! Yet, despite his attention to nuance, Bourne's skillful acting and the Crispian wit, there are times when you may wish for a pickup of pace and for something to happen. But then Quentin Crisp was a happening whose equal we're unlikely to see again soon so it's enough to just watch Bette Bourne's Crisp ruminate as he shuffles about, peel his potato, cook that single egg and answer the phone "Oh yee-es" -- happy to mark his next lunch date into "the Sacred Book" ready at all times for "that funny thing that happens to you on the way to the grave."

To read our review of An Evening With Quentin Crisp just a year before his death go here
To read our London and New York review of Howie the Rookie, a dual monologue play also directed by Mike Bradwell and currently in New York go here

Crisp's books from which Tim Fountain created his play:
The Naked Civil Servant -- the title of Crisp's first and most popular book, stems from his years as a nude artists' model.
Resident Alien : The New York Diaries
The Wit and Wisdom of Quentin Crisp

By Tim Fountain, based on the life, writings and musings of Quentin Crisp
Directed by Mike Bradwell
Cast: Bette Bourne
Set and Costume Design: Neil Patel
Lighting Design: Brian MacDevitt
Sound Design: Jerry Yager
Running time: 2 hours, including one 15-minute intermission
2001-/2001; opening 1/18/01
New York Theatre Workshop, 79 E. 4th St. (2nd Av/Bowery), 460-5475
Tues-Fri, 8pm, Sat at 3 and 8pm, Sun at 2 and 7pm -- $45 with limited $10 tickets sold through the CHEAPTIX program two hours before a performance.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on performance 1/12

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