This review of Quentin Crisp in the show entitled "Quentin Crisp: Eighty-Eight at Eighty-Eights" was written by Rita Sola and appeared in Volume I, Issue 1 (November, 1997) of Applause! Applause! published by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens. The show took place at Eighty-Eights located at 228 West 10th Street in Manhattan.
"Quentin Crisp: Eighty-Eight at Eighty-Eight's" - Quentin Crisp
Eighty-Eight's (228 West 10th Street, NYC)
Some years ago, I was given a bumper sticker that reads, "Housework Rots the Mind." Since I don't have a bumper to stick it on, I've hung it on the wall near the door of my apartment where visitors will see it at once...and understand. Quentin Crisp understands. He claims to have never cleaned his apartment. "What's the point?" he says, After four years, it doesn't get any dirtier." He's right. But then, he will explain, "One's flat is merely one's dressing room. Outside is the stage."
In the event you've been living on a moon of Jupiter for the last several decades, I should explain who Quentin Crisp is. I should, but I can't. He is an original, a peculiarly British phenomenon, the sort they send us once a century. The last was Oscar Wilde, but he didn't stay. Quentin did -- he explains why in his book Resident Alien -- and he's been here for seventeen years.
Quentin Crisp is a writer, actor, film critic, and, in recent months, cabaret performer, completing a successful run that was extended for an extra four weeks at Eighty-Eight's, a serendipitous choice since he will turn eighty-nine on Christmas Day. In the thirties, when he was in his twenties, he was a nude model in the employ of the government of His Majesty the King. Hence the title of his autobiography and the film, starring John Hurt, which was based on it: The Naked Civil Servant. No, he did not pose for tired parliamentarians relaxing after a hard day of law-making (at one of his performances, Quentin defined politics as "the art of making the inevitable appear to be a matter of wise human choice") but in state-owned art schools.
Since then, he has been a leading proponent of what he calls the "profession of being" as opposed to the "profession of making." To illustrate the profession of making where the thing you make becomes more important than you, he refers to the acclaim that would be accorded a work by the sculptor Henry Moore, typically a huge piece of marble with a hole in it that would instantaneously be recognized as a work by Henry Moore. However, if you were to drag out Henry Moore himself, "with or without a hole in him," no one would recognize him. The "profession of being" he says, is exemplified by someone like Mohammed Ali whose opponents were invariably identified in terms of the former heavyweight champion: "the man who was beaten by Ali" or "that boxer who won the title from Ali."
As a distinguished author and personality, Quentin would seem to define both these principles. A frequent guest on television talk shows, he refers to the medium as an example of "the survival of the glibbest." Quentin Crisp's cabaret show is an amalgam of such bon mots as well as reminiscences. He recalls that as a child, he saw a silent film starring stage legend Sarah Bernhardt, who, although she must have been told that she was performing in a silent film, nevertheless moved her lips "faster than a policeman giving corrupt evidence."
Corrupt police and sidewalk thugs are well known to Quentin, who has been openly gay all his life. When asked why he was never in the closet, he explains that he couldn't get into one. Every time he opened a closet door, the people inside would wave him away shouting, "Not in here! Not in here!"
But after listening to him awhile, you become aware that Quentin does not seem to consider himself a homosexual male but rather a heterosexual female whom God deposited in the wrong receptacle. He mentions that he was born too soon to take advantage of The Operation. Of course, Quentin, himself, may not blame God for the mishap as he claims to be an atheist. On one sojourn to Northern Ireland, he was asked by a woman in the audience whether he was a Protestant or a Catholic. Quentin responded that he was an atheist. The woman responded "That's all very well, Mr. Crisp, but is it the God of the Protestants or the God of the Catholics in whom you don't believe."
Quentin tells his audience to "Never keep up with the Joneses. Drag them down to your level. It's cheaper." But despite such advice, he puts a strong premium on style. To illustrate a supreme stylist, he conjures up the image of Maria Eva Duarte de Peron standing before thousands in high ankle strap shoes and raising her arms, causing two cascades of diamond bracelets to fall down her arms like railroad cars in a siding, and as she does so, beginning her speech, "We are the shirtless ones."
As another example of this nebulous quality, he tells the story of a London bag-lady, known as the Countess ("and not without cause") who rummages through trash bins for discarded treasures -- a single lace glove, for instance -- most of which she gives away, telling the recipient, "You're bound to find another one some day." One day, she found a black, beaded, backless evening dress. Thrilled by her discovery, too excited to wait until nightfall, she slipped into a small graveyard to try it on. A crowd gathered and she was hauled before a powdery-wigged magistrate who asked, "What do you mean by disrobing amongst the dead?" Her reply: "I was doing what any respectable lady would be doing at that hour. Dressing for dinner." Now that's style!!