When I saw the review of Lypsinka's new show, "The Passion of the Crawford" in this past Sunday's San Francisco Examiner, it brought this reporter back to the very first time I saw Lypsinka on stage.
That was back in the early 1990's at a spot in The Castro called "Josie's Juice Joint and Cabaret." I recall the show as exciting, funny, clever and original. As entertainer, actor, singer and the show's creator John Epperson continued taking the show on the road, Lypsinka grew in popularity. She grew so much so that she made an appearance on The Joan Rivers Show. Lypsinka became an icon among many as the social consciousness was changing and growing. Groups like ACT UP and PFLAG and all those associated with the AIDS memorial quilt were becoming more vocal and visible as the decade of the 1990's broke new ground.
Epperson took a moment to contact this reporter to reflect on those days. “It is true that the AIDS activism and other gay movements, the street life of San Francisco, Josie’s itself (as a venue), and Lypsinka where all tied together in the 1990s,” said Epperson. “A few years after my last performance at Josie’s in ’97, gave perspective on this phenomenon.” “It is indeed worth writing about,” he said.
At places like Josie's, the social and political changes that were happening felt very local and close to home and perhaps a bit home-spun.(Well, at least that is how I felt). Sitting in the audience of that very small makeshift performance venue (by day it was a juice bar and by night a cabaret), gave me the sense that even though change was happening with far-reaching impacts, there was a home-grown intimacy about it.
Any live performance, especially in a cabaret type setting does have a bit of intimacy to it. I saw other shows at Josie's as the months and years past. But I enjoyed Lypsinka the most. Even when I went back to see another show of Lypsinka's some time later, called, "Lypsinka de-constructed," (or something like that if my memory serves me well). The show was called "Lypsinka Must Be Destroyed,” Epperson clarified. “That was back in 1996.” “It was a thematically very complex show, he said, that a friend called it ‘a re-birthing show,’ said Epperson. “It left many befuddled.” “But it was sold out every night, despite its metaphysics and incorrectly perceived politics,” said Epperson. Surprisingly, Epperson noted, that show got extended four weeks.
Yes, I was among the 'befuddled' as for me the show was a disappointment; but it did not diminish the original aspect and spirit of the Lypsinka character. Friends and I who saw that particular show figured Lypsinka at the time was slowing down and wanted to take leave, creating an "exit" for this persona which had won over so many audiences nationwide. This is why I was so pleased to see her return in all that Lypsinka glamor.
Epperson took a moment to provide some of the behind-the-scenes details of those days, which an average person like myself would not know. He explained, “it was the next year in 1997, after that show, when I noticed the audience and SF culture as well as the national culture was changing.” "And, so was Josie’s," he said. "I predicted the place would soon close and that I would not perform there again.” "These predictions came to be," he said. Epperson pointed out that, “part of the demise of Josie’s was the departure of Donald Montwill, one of the cabaret’s founders." Montwill stepped away from the managing of the cabaret due to health reasons. "With Montwill’s leaving the guiding influence for Josie’s was gone," noted Epperson. As reported in the SF Examiner, the cabaret spot was Montwill's, pride and joy. He died three years after Josie's officially closed it door's in 1999.
And, I like to think that Lypsinka got started or at least got more noticed in San Francisco. Kind of like in the tradition of the Purple Onion (which just recently closed) The Hungry I, or The Holy City Zoo; these cabaret/night club, comedy club places in San Francisco were a platform in which now legendary performers, like Barbra Streisand, Phyllis Diller and Robin Williams got their start.
Arts and Entertainment critic for the SF Examiner, Leslie Katz said that watching Lypsinka is "interesting, because the material is filled with personality, wit, color and history."
I found the creative approach of Lypsinka a delightful collage' of inspired antics. Mixing a funny and insightful array of lip-sinking clips and quips of lines from some of the most memorable movies.
Yet even then in those early shows circa 1991 or so, Lypsinka relied heavily on screen legends like Crawford. Lines from the movie "Mommie Dearest" as I recall had everyone roaring in laughter..."Barbara, Please!"
So, when I heard about Epperson's tribute show to Crawford, it was no surprise. Based upon actual interviews with Crawford from the 1960's and '70s, Epperson as Lypsinka really does personify the essence that was or perhaps is the legendary Joan Crawford.
Even when the movie "Mommie Dearest" was questioned and criticized for its actual biographical authenticity, upon its release in the early 1980's, fans still clamored to see it.
And, while some fans were skeptical of adopted daughter Christina Crawford's memoirs, "Mommie Dearest" did not diminish the legend, it only served to make Joan Crawford more an icon (even if a bit campy) than ever before.
This might be the bit of "eerie" that Katz mentioned in her review that Sunday, Sept. 9. For even in zany moments as Epperson unleashes Lypsinka's rendition of the award winning star, there is this sense that there is some deep "truth" of Crawford in it.
In fun, campiness and jest there is something genuinely honest about those old interviews. And, I think that is what audiences are responding to most. This is what I think makes Crawford compelling and Epperson as Lypsinka portraying Crawford has found a great vehicle for the unique talent and persona that is Lypsinka.
"The Passion of the Crawford" continues at The Rrazz Room at the Hotel Nikko until Sunday, Sept. 16. On Sept 17 at The Rrazz Room “I will perform as myself in the show, it is called, "John Epperson: An Evening with Lypsinka’s Maid." “Josie’s Juice Joint and Cabaret and some of the things we discussed in this article will be mentioned,” he said. For more info visit the Rrazz Room web site.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com