It’s Wet, It’s Violent, It’s Queer, and It’s Worth Seeing: "Virgo Star" Takes Us Back to the Wild West

Virgo Star

Written by Daniel Diaz, Annabella Lenzu, Gian Marco Riccardo Lo Forte,  Agosto Machado, and Philip Treviño

Directed by Gian Marco Riccardo Lo Forte

Presented by Pioneers Go East Collective at La MaMa's Downstairs Lounge

66 E 4 St., Manhattan, NYC

November 14-December 1, 2019

Daniel Diaz. Photo credit: Jon Burklund/Zanni Productions
Queer cowgirls and boys. What could be more exciting than an experimental romp through a Manhattan basement with guns “firing,” men licking other men’s boots, getting blindfolded and made to listen to others’ sexual fantasies, and the cackling of a crazed Spanish-speaking madam resonating over the whole thing? Well, that’s exactly what you will get at Virgo Star, an experimental, interactive performance piece performed by Pioneers Go East Collective and running at La MaMa in the East Village through Dec 1.

From the beginning, the performance frustrates definition and convention. The audience is asked to remain in the lobby until someone comes and ushers us into the basement-level performance space. Immediately you are greeted with the wild ramblings of a black-corseted, Spanish-speaking, burlesque Madam (Anabella Lenzu) who welcomes you into a space lit with neon lights and projected images of southwestern landscapes. You are pulled into the rest of the space to explore multiple performances happening simultaneously. In one corner you see a live cowboy licking another cowboy’s boots and shining them (Alessandro Magania and Daniel Diaz). Of course, there is the requisite cowboy-themed porn playing on one of the screens. Scattered around the large spaces are the remnants of that bygone era. Guns, bandanas, ropes, hula hoops, and other items place you in the scene. But the props suggest more of the child’s imagination of the old West than any historical period.

So much of the performance is centered on childhood and the longing and trauma that childhood mostly consists of. It is not lost on the audience that the guns used are intentionally orange-tipped plastic toys. When the main performance begins, the audience is asked to blindfold themselves with bandannas handed out at the beginning of the show. A moment of trust happens—really, it felt like anything could happen at this moment. And this interactive moment serves to pull the audience into what is a touching, disturbing, confusing, and ultimately enjoyable performance. A loose narrative of same-sex longing, the violence that some face when acting on that longing, and the deep loss that many queer people live with holds the performance together. Much of the main performance follows the sexual narratives of two sets of lovers and is interspersed with monologues describing longing and violence.

Annabella Lenzu and Bree Breedan. Photo credit: Carlos Cardena
The image of the queer cowboy is more common than many would think—even before Jake and Heath went into the tent and made us long for a Wyoming vacation ASAP. Queer cowboys make sense. Put a bunch of adventurous men together in wide-open spaces with no women around, and you have the perfect set up for some queer stuff going down. Chris Packard, in his book Queer Cowboys, says that all the ingredients for same-sex sexiness are there in the myth and reality of the West. Essentially, Packard says, the friendship between cowboys is based on "erotic affection." The old West was a homosocial environment where social relations were being upended and redefined in all aspects of daily life. And this included gender and sexuality. What the show builds on is the image of the longing just under the surface of so much of the mythology of the old West that Brokeback Mountain manifested in its iconic sex scene.

Virgo Star plays with that longing too, and offers multiple performance types to tell the story of a queer old West. The musical performances are worth seeing in themselves. Songwriter and performer Chris Riffle plays the guitar and sings some heartbreakingly beautiful songs, and other performers sing songs from the touching to the bizarre—Lenzu steals the show with her performance. And then there is the violence. There are the expected brawls in saloons and brothels that one would expect, but there is something underneath the play violence that is disturbing. Virgo Star moves into uncomfortable territory by confronting sexual violence head on. In the moment the audience is asked to blindfold themselves, they listen to a story of a young boy being molested by priests and eventually growing up to do sex-work on the streets of NYC. While Matthew Shepard is not mentioned, one of the cowboys is on his way to Laramie, Wyoming. The connection was clear. The linking of the violence of the old West and that of our own moment is jarring. While blindfolded listening to the narrative of the boy forced to service men in the back of a truck, it was difficult not to let a tear loose. Luckily, the bandanna soaked it up.

Speaking of soaking up, there is a lot of moisture in this play. Water flies everywhere during fights. Cowboys and girls slurp it down from a prop bucket. The crazed madam throws it everywhere, confusing and terrifying the entire audience. And all the actors pour sweat. It is the wetness of the whole thing that reminds you that, while experimental, the narratives that underlie these performances are about real queers who sweat and bleed and cry. 

-Joseph Donica


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