Monday night, I accepted Josh Schonewolf’s invitation to check out Drag Me to Hell, Gunnar Montana’s newest bizarro performance moment. It was definitely weird. Here are a handful of things I saw, heard and learned at Underground Arts:
1. Let’s just set the scene real quick. UA has been a strange and welcoming queer space for a second now, welcoming all kinds of weirds including the Queen Diva, Big Freedia, next week. And it seems like, while the space is flexible, the logistics are pretty constant–a riser of foldout chairs on bleacher seat rows and sporadic roundtables with chairs around them on the ground floor between the risers and the stage. It’s imaginable that a show like Big Freedia’s will require the elimination of the tables and chairs and just have ticketed seats with standing-room space for freakouts. The DMTH crew used this to their advantage, entering and exiting on each side of the bleachers and taking the opportunity to get all up in the faces of the seated patrons between the risers and the stage. Lady Poison, Luna LaVey, Pretty Girl, Stephi Lyneice and Gunnar Montana enter, stumbly and zombie-shuffling, with blood stains and weird looks of possession.
2. Eventually, Montana positions Lady Poison in a chair (her back facing the audience), and he “saws” her hands off, one-by-one, in dramatic fashion with a chainsaw. Loud buzzsaw effects soundtrack Montana’s wild gestures of effort in getting through the bone. Oh, and he’s wearing garbage-bag diaper underwear and a murderous apron–we are clearly invited to admire his obliques and generous musculature. It’s clear that this is part of what some people have come for.
3. Lady Poison is left alone on stage to perform a haunting, creeped-out version of the Beatles’ “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” Get it? She has no hands, but instead has shiny, bloody, bound stubs at the end of her forearms, and she’s lip-synching her face off while slamming her bloody nubs on the ground. It is a little cringe-worthy, not because of Ms. Poison, but because of the disturbing effect of bloody amputated wrists being pounded into the dirty ground. She does another hand-holding song, which I sadly cannot identify, an old-timey number that presented a challenging lip-synch. Still, she pretty much slayed it, while pouring salts in circles (she’s ripped off her bandages now and is using her hands) and throwing white powder all over the stage. It’s very Stevie Nicks-y a la American Horror Story: Coven.
4. Perhaps one of the most memorable performances came from Stephi Lyenice before the intermission. What could have possibly been seen as an innocent-looking, small, but curvaceously sexy young woman, quickly becomes sinister. She’s working a pleated, metallic silver cape connected to batons she’s gripping, and she’s manipulating it to look like wings. The aesthetic is stunning; she spins long and gracefully and cloaks herself and a splayed-out Lady Poison. But then she kneels over the top of Ms. Poison and pulls out a freaky little tiny-man mask, a possessed-baby lookin’ hockey mask, and, aside from her wings, she’s really only wearing a black vinyl corset with zippers and cut-outs. She’s pulled a knife out of her hair, and she’s unzipping her corset to reveal beautiful breasts covered just so with tittie tassles. She mimes stabbing Poison a dozen or so times and is off the stage.
5. Poison made a big mess. And with 15 minutes before a second act, Montana is laboriously sweeping the tons of white powder everywhere. He’s sweeping around about 10 decapitated mannequin heads (conceivably reused from his, allegedly, far more ambitious Fringe show, Basement) and still has his garbage-bag briefs and murder apron on. The DJ plays, loudly, that ubiquitous remix of Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness” and “Work Bitch.” Again, is this part of the show? Him sweeping and showing us skin?
6. I saw Montana do a backwards Santa striptease at Tabu for a Bearlesque, I believe, so this next act wasn’t a huge surprise. He starts out in a giant, puffy Megaman suit strapped to his back, with him facing the rear of the stage and a puffed-up Megaman robot facing the audience. Luna Lavey’s a weird queen, no doubt; she may have gestured pleasuring herself with a handsaw in the night’s opening number. But even though she looked beautiful in skin-tight, space-patterned leggings, she gave a pretty disappointing lip-sync. Either she didn’t know the words all that well or something took hold of her, but she and Megatron awkwardly fought until she jumped on Montana and pounded on his body like Ann Darrow would on King Kong’s hand.
7. With a little comic relief, Ms. Lyenice came out in a vibrant, fringed red dress and smashed the aforementioned decapitated mannequin heads with a frying pan to Frank Sinatra. The sound effects were on-point; every time she wailed on a head, it was accompanied by a loud and resounding thwack. Impeccable timing.
8. Poison came out with a marital march, holding a bridal bouquet, and got annihilated by Pretty Girl and her machine gun. Pretty Girl is weird times ten. She’s a queen who wraps her face in gauze, but wears powder-white makeup and bright lips. She almost looks like a burn victim mixed with an old-school sheet ghost and amplified by the pretty girl from the first season of American Horror Story. She wore a vest made of empty cigarette boxes and flounced around the room (including the only visit up to the riser seats) to a twisted version of “White Wedding.” She even had a sip of a beer that belonged to a girl sitting in front of me and left giant lipstick stains on the glass. The girl didn’t bat an eye and simply sipped from the other side.
9. In one of the funnest numbers of the night, Luna redeemed herself by both killing the lip-sync to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas” and gleefully tearing apart a 3’ tall standing, automated Christmas Santa with a variety of weapons from a paper-wrapped gift box. The pruning shears did the trick in the end, as she ripped out Santa’s entrails and wrapped them around her like a scarf.
10. Shortly after the end of Luna’s Christmas number, Montana’s machine-fed voice came on the loudspeakers to creepily announce that the show was over—after about 45 minutes since its first act (including a 10-15 minute intermission). You could tell it was a little bit of a needle-slip moment, with audience members looking at each other like, “REALLY!?” Facebook blasts seemed to hint at an aerial number, including video of rehearsal, but it sounds like that’ll be in tonight’s through Thursday’s performances. But with very little-to-no Gunnar Montana dancing and no aerialist (essentially, two numbers from two queens and Ms. Lynice, and a romp with Pretty Girl), the show felt a tiny bit slapped together.
Josh Schonewolf and Gunnar Montana present Drag Me To Hell, tonight-Thursday night, Oct. 29-31, doors at 9pm, show at 10pm. $10. Underground Arts, 1200 Callowhill St. undergroundarts.org