‘KINK HAÜS’ (Photo: Theo Cote)
Subtle, he is not. Philadelphia-based choreographer and performance artist Gunnar Montana throws down the gauntlet (or in this case, dildos of various sizes) in his latest creation, KINK HAÜS, a quickly paced romp through queer culture and identity.
Its creator — along with an ensemble of six athletic and scantily clad dancers — performs to a pop-inspired, 21st-century mixtape. He is also credited as choreographer, director, and creative director. The art installation and graffiti art throughout the theater, as well as the lobby of La Mama’s Downstairs Theatre, is also Mr. Montana’s handiwork. Echoes of Warhol and Tom of Finland imbue his aesthetic, which is at once exciting and oddly familiar.
After briefly sharing an account of my theatrical experience with a friend the day after seeing the show, he responded by politely saying, “I don’t like performance art,” which made me think that I had misrepresented the evening. Or perhaps Mr. Montana had. This isn’t to say that I didn’t have a deliciously good time.
KINK HAÜS is a culmination of what audiences have come to love in LGBTQ-affirming theater. A more mainstream variation can be found in Broadway’s Head Over Heels, featuring a wonky coming out story as told through an Elizabethan lens and Go-Go’s music. Mr. Montana’s take is more downtown in its vibe but just as accessible. Those familiar with Montreal’s artistic collective The 7 Fingers or New York City’s own Company XIV may categorize Mr. Montana’s work of a similar ilk. The physical strength of the former and gender fluidity of the latter appear as common traits, but the artist taps into a sense of physical abandon, which he beautifully plays to his advantage.
Standout moments include Mr. Montana and Avi Borouchoff entangled in an aggressive man-on-man pas de deux; Stephi Lyneice slipping and sliding on a 10×10 floor panel slathered in baby oil; and Jessica Daley chained to an old bathtub, only to whip out a chainsaw and break free. The 55-minute piece vacillates between empowerment and addiction, with a scene between Ms. Daley and Frank Leone performed in and around a towering mountain of cocaine. With a bit of modification, it’s not unlike choreography you might expect to see on So You Think You Can Dance. (Not a dig… FOX’s longtime show has garnered 10 Emmy Awards for choreography.)
The night I was in attendance, the audience was primarily gay middle-aged white men. With that demographic (to which I belong) came a polite appreciation for the artists’ work. There was little hootin’ and hollerin’ and nary a “YAAAS!” was muttered in spite of the onstage fierceness.
“It was just like ‘Rose’s Turn’ from Gypsy,” commented an attendee after the show in response to a brilliantly illuminated “FAGGOT” sign that flashed to the beat of Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out For a Hero” during one of the numbers.
I wondered as we spilled onto East 4th Street if the show had delivered “the raw, dark, and sometimes outlandish sexual journey inside us all,” as its sizzle reel promotes. Standing within striking distance of Whole Foods and artisan coffeehouses serving deconstructed lattes, it all felt a bit safe.
Perhaps KINK HAÜS needs to road trip to Bushwick (or a kinetic Tumbler fan base like Be More Chill) to tether itself to an audience willing to unravel. I’m sure this isn’t the last we’ll hear of Gunnar Montana. I’m fascinated to see what kind of haüs he builds next.
The Downstairs Theatre at La Mama
66 East Fourth Street, NYC
Through October 6
Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor and a recent fellowship participant at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Critics Institute. Read more of his work at wexlerwrites.com.