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"A Life In Three Acts"
Bette Bourne and Mark Ravenhill in "A Life in Three Acts." Photo by Richard Termine.

"A Life In Three Acts"
Written by Bette Bourne & Mark Ravenhill, Directed by Mark Ravenhill
St Anne’s Warehouse, 38 Water Street, Brooklyn, NY
March 4 – March 28, 2010
Every Saturday 7:30 PM
Reviewed by Edward Rubin, Thursday, March 25, 2010

Like oysters, caviar, absinthe and Proust, London based actor and gay icon Bette Bourne, an acquired taste for many, and an addiction for those super-sensitive, aesthetically clued-in denizens living and working below 14th street, is gloriously back in town. He is holding royal court, as only a full-fledged queen can do, at St Anne’s Warehouse in Dumbo. This time around Bourn is not mouthing other people’s words, or for that matter playing a character out of a play, but presenting a partially, self-scripted, loosely assembled, bio-epic, walk-thru of his life, conducted in interview format, by English playwright Mark Ravenhill, also a writer and director of this "Evening with Bette Bourne."

For those with their memory still intact, the Obie winning Bloolips, Bourne’s outrageously funny political drag troupe, was the most eagerly waited theatrical event for downtown theatre goers throughout the 80s. And there was the marvelous, over the top, "Belle Reprieve," the 1991 musical gender-fuck parody on Tennessee William’s Streetcar Named Desire. Bourne played Blanche to Peggy Shaw’s Stanley. Trying to send it to hell – remember George Bush #2 was still in office – the New York Times damned it. The Village Voice – God was still blessing them in those years – awarded it an Obie for Best Ensemble Performance. In 2001, Bourne’s one man show, "Resident Alien," in which he channeled his long time friend Quentin Crisp, opened to great acclaim at the New York Theatre Workshop.

"A Life in Three Acts" – so one piece that I cannot remember if there was even an intermission – is a vaudevillian docudrama cum musical cum comedy, in which Bourne intermittently questioned by Ravenhill reexamines, much to our delight, his seventy year trajectory. With photos and documents appearing on a screen in the background, Bourne, with song, dance and witty asides, charms us with his life story. Willingly we relive his childhood, meet his friends, visit his radical gay commune and experience his Gay lib days during the pot-smoking sexual 70s. Along the way hear about his studying drama with Julie Christie, his acting with Ian McKellen in Edward II, and his transformation, seemingly overnight, from a so-called conservative straight man – he did have a short-lived affair with a woman – to an outrageously flamboyant drag queen.

Though Bourne’s hugely comedic sensibility attempts to rule the evening – he always has a hilarious zinger lurking somewhere in the background – his seriously delivered stories are equally compelling. His memory of his abusive working class father, who beat him often, before deserting the family altogether, rang both familiar and painful. The story of an arrest, one of his many for dressing in woman’s clothes, garnering laughs from the audience, was particularly foretelling. While in court, asked to take off his hat by the judge, Bourne answers, "I cannot take it off as it matches my shoes." In one of the most moving moments of the evening Bourne tells of inviting his father for tea and meeting him at the door in full drag. "I wanted you to see me as I am," he tells his father. "I wanted to tell you that I am not afraid of you." In another tale, one that seems to sum up life as well as the entire evening, a friend’s ninety year old mother desperately seeking her son, ends up at Bourne’s queenly commune. Finding her son in full drag – thankful that he was still alive – quips, "Well, it’s all theatre isn’t it," a thought no doubt in many an actor’s head.

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