I didn’t go to the Opening of Erin Markey’s Puppy Love: A Stripper’s Tail (part of the P.S. 122 Solo Nova series) last Thursday, because I’m going to the closing this coming weekend and in the midst of all the gallivanting and karaoke, I needed some quiet nights at home, to rest my voice (and my liver). On one of those quiet nights, this past Saturday, Erin and some other friends wound up stopping by my apartment after dinner. I was complaining about how I’d overbooked my Sunday with a brunch, and a coffee date and plans to see A Star Is Born screened at Lincoln Center. A more is more kind of gal, Erin suggested I add to my plans, filling the gap between my date and the movie, with a matinee of her show. At that moment, it seemed like a great idea (we’d all been basically one-upping each other, showering Erin with praise for her various skills and accomplishments – but I’m giving her a whole blog post, motherfuckers!), and even at 3 AM when the group of us were leaving the Metropolitan bar and I was desperately trying to justify canceling morning plans, I still felt excited to go see Puppy Love.
I was not, however, prepared for the jolt of brilliance I felt right at the top of Erin’s show the next day.
Puppy Love begins with Erin, her fiery redhead covered in a granny wig and her stripper gear loosely covered by the front half of an old show biz lady’s sequined dress, clunking out on stage on a walker as the band plays the first tune in a score of original songs that melt in your ear. The strength of Erin’s music is particularly important in the opening, as we immediately understand the familiar convention of a story being framed by a star at the end of her life looking back, and as Erin’s put-on old lady voice begins to sing, we are meant to feel we’ve heard this diva sing this number for years. I felt a cool meta sensation imagining Erin singing this song someday when she really is a famous old lady.
Besides loving Erin’s voice, I have loved her voice before (in my collaboration with her on her musical, The Dardy Family Home Movies). Her words reveal such specific truths about her characters, from the minutia of the day-to-day to the epic life philosophies. And her music supports that range of human experience, adding to the humor and irony, quirkiness and theatricality of the small moments and lifting the big stuff, way up, larger than life, and so filled with it.
But I had not expected this show, this stripper’s tale, to take such a familiar show business form, and was delighted as this provocative (groundbreaking even) story about a queer post-feminist intellectual performance artist making her way in the world as a stripper presented itself reeling with entertainment and so digestible to the audience, particularly me. Semi-spoiler alert, but the juxtaposition of the stripper’s mentorship/lesbian love affair with Erin’s embodiment of the male customer, all while spinning around upside down on a stripper pole and playing a tiny piano, is breathtaking, astounding and some of the best moments I’ve seen on stage in a long time. Run, don’t walk, to catch one of the remaining performances this week.
That night watching A Star Is Born, I couldn’t help but continue to think about Erin in terms of Judy, and vice-versa. It’s not exactly apt to compare an actress-singer with a performance artist who writes her own material and while Erin’s sings in a huge expressive voice full of colors and musicality, I don’t expect her to reinvent singing like Judy did. But then again, A Star Is Born feels very much like Judy’s own story – I wondered last night if her famously unjust loss of the Best Actress Oscar might not have been a dismissal for “playing herself.”
And while Judy may not have been a writer, A Star Is Born was produced by her husband Sid Luft and at the very least, it would seem that if Judy were working today, that relationship would have been one of those movie star “producing partner” arrangements, a la Drew Barrymore or just about anyone in Hollywood. Hell, it’s not hard to imagine, in a different time, Judy might have been creating exciting new work downtown, like Erin Markey. That would have been something too.