BOY CULTURE REVIEW: ***1/2 out of ****
The last time I saw Karen Finley on stage was around 1990 in Chicago, at the height of her notoriety as one of the NEA Four—artists whose grants were voided when right-wingers decided to make an issue of their work's sexual and political content. I recall her being smeared in chocolate pudding, among other things. It was a heady time for edgy performers—I saw Finley, Annie Sprinkle (my first cervix sighting!) and Lypsinka the same year—but there must be something in the air, because I just saw two of those three again in 2014.
Finley is performing Karen Finley: Written in Sand at Baruch Performing Arts Center every Thursday through October 23. The show is a 90-minute, stripped down collection of her AIDS-related work, consisting of Finley and a musical accompanist. I have to say that while it begins with a characteristically out-there series of vignettes (and ends with an amazing tribute to the black sheep of the world), the show quickly becomes irresistibly, uncomfortably, movingly intimate; she's able to summon up vivid visions of the many friends she's lost to AIDS with sometimes sad, sometimes sly in-jokes and the verbal shorthand that exists between all friends.
Just hearing her unique speech in person was exciting to me—this is, after all, the woman who commanded us all to drop our ghetto blasters:
Karen at 1:39, 2:27, etc.
I found her works challenging and raw, even as Finley herself—she would emerge from in character every so often to wink at us and reassure us, or to charmingly play off any rough transitions—came across as endearingly open and flat-out funny.
Bonus of seeing Karen Finley in 2014 instead of 1990? Jesse Helms is dead.
Keep reading for some classic Finley works...