★★★ | Geist, High-Camp Hedonism!
Is there anything more delicious than desecrating a dead, pandrogynous diva? What could possibly beat the sick, violating kick of shredding every scrap of their scanty, psychic lingerie, rooting out lies, betrayals and filthily addictive truths? Someday, perhaps – long after privacy laws expire in a surveillance culture feeding-frenzy – we can feast on Bowie’s secret excesses, but meanwhile, there’s fictional meta-scandal Geist.
The latest, multi-media assault on mediocrity by self-styled fascinatrix La John Joseph, Geist comprehensively dissects its’ messianic star’s life and legacy. Like Orson Welles’ towering Citizen Kane, the ambition is grand; a retrospective, faux-documentary excavation of deceased celebrity myth-making, of conflicting public and private truths.
Better yet, Geist forcibly marries Kane’s scope to Malcolm McLaren’s viciously precise, punk-rock irreverence and the stinking, incest brats of Freudian guilt and raw egotism. It’s a sublime, sick-f*** polygamy, a Sid and Nancy puke on propriety and startlingly provocative theatre, an All About Eve reconfigured as snotty, waspish, rock ‘n’ roll swindle.
So why, overall, is Geist unsatisfying? Certainly, La John bleeds visual charisma from every skin-pore, an unlikely but striking collision of Lucille Ball and effeminate, Cecil Beaton-immortalised Oxford dandy. Like fellow, flamboyant predecessors Brian Howard and Stephen Tennant – both icons of the 1930-33 Pansy Club Craze – La John fuses soignée aplomb with savage arrogance. And that – despite Geist’s visual and thematic brilliance – is precisely the problem.
Just like Dorothy’s Tin Man in Oz, Geist comes across, ultimately, as a show without a heart. Somehow, we never warm to La John’s portrayal of Alexander Geist, his mercurial alter-ego. Possibly, that’s a result of deliberate distancing strategies, such as the preference for gender-neutral grammar that La John habitually employs. But why – speaking as a devil’s advocate – apply that strategy to an evidently cisgender, aggressively narcissistic male? Whatever La John’s intentions, what comes across is feminine mystique forcibly misappropriated and superglued to masculine rage. It’s an intensely jarring mix brilliantly avoided by David Hoyle, who radically transcends the car-crash insensitivity of an indiscriminate, pick ‘n’ mix plundering of gender politics.
Yes, every artist is free to explore any subject, but why not avoid ham-fisted disconnects via empathy and respect for one’s mode of expression? That’s why the work of physically trans-morphing artists Nina Arsenault and Genesis P-Orridge is so passionately human; it’s a textbook, orgasmic intercourse of form, intention and content. La John, by contrast, unwittingly embraces the fallacy so brilliantly skewered by Joan Didion’s Year Of Magical Thinking, presuming that wishful dreaming always trumps reality. Ideally, he’s hoping to embody some transcendent, omnisexual Puck or Ariel, but the actuality onstage is mere pretty-boy petulance.
So it’s a pity La John never risks exploring emotional vulnerabilities; Geist cries out for moments of soft, lyrical exposure beneath an inflexibly brittle surface. Ideally, I’d prefer to view the show’s smug, one-note waspishness as a deliberate critique of celebrity solipsism, but nothing here seduces the heart and soul.
Rather, Geist’s appeal remains purely analytical, the solving of a performance art puzzle-box frustratingly devoid of divine madness. And who needs a faux film-noir inhabited by a non-stop, Mariah Carey diva strop? Hopelessly, I prayed that Alexander Geist would experience Marquis De Sade moments, the shocking, anecdotal bites of exceptional depravity that forcibly challenge all conventional moralities.
Oh, don’t get me wrong; there’s much to enjoy in Geist, especially the multiple shoals of Hitchcockian red herrings cunningly orchestrated by director Robert Chevara. Still, creating intriguing innovations hugely challenges every contemporary director – virtually every pop-culture and media motif has been ruthlessly recycled, so even sheer brilliance seems passé. Not here. Staging Geist as a restless, cinema verité investigation, Chevara splits our focus between La John live, performance footage, and Geist’s sister/former/future self? – being video-interviewed.
And choosing to include actress Francis Lima as a deliberate, unspecified sea of possibilities – who or what is she/he? – is Chevara’s directorial master-stroke. Instantly, Geist’s resonances deepen, as Lima’s serene, fascinating ambiguity provokes comparison with searing, Roman Polanski psychodramas – Repulsion and The Tenant – far beyond La John’s dazzling flippancy.
Still, Geist is very much a work in progress, but even now, has the fabulous, if very faint, imprint of Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius novels. Never read Jerry? Don’t delay– he’s a multi-gendered, rock ‘n’ roll assassin simultaneously exploring contradictory versions of his own reality. Just like La John Joseph, in fact, who – with just a little fine tweaking – will emerge as Bowie’s flaming, ambisexual heir. We’ll all be watching with breathless awe.
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