Dec. 3, 1996 Dec. 17, 1996

Art Watch Index - Dec. 10, 1996

Howard Crabtree's When Pigs Fly
James Keith Vincent

Art Watch Back Number Index

Howard Crabtree's "When Pigs Fly"
Douglas Fairbanks Theater(New York)
August, 1996 - Now Showing
Douglas Fairbanks Theater
Douglas Fairbanks, 432 W. 42nd St. New York
Tel. 212-239-6200

Howard Crabtree's When Pigs Fly

James Keith Vincent

Coming back to New York after a two year stay in Tokyo, seeing a good play was at the top of my list. Unfortunately, however, a combination of impatience, bad information and just plain bad luck saw me paying good money for one disappointing show after another. But finally, last week, I found what I was looking for-a funny, uplifting, politically relevant play with lots of crazy music and campy costumes. It was Howard Crabtree's When Pigs Fly, an irreverently outrageous musical review with numbers that ranged from pure entertainment to hilariously trenchant political commentary.

The Fabulous Coming Out

The show starts out with the protagonist, Howard Crabtree, being told by his high school carreer counselor that it's about time that he give up his obsesssion with the theater to get a "real job" and join the ranks of responsible adults in his rural home town in Missouri. But Howard is charmingly recalcitrant. He rejects the grim practicality of life in the Midwest in order to follow his dream-of putting on a play together with, and for "people like me." His counselor only rolls her eyes and tells him she is sure that he will succeed, "when pigs fly." But Howard sets out to prove her wrong and the series of exhuberantly witty numbers that follow work as a kind of elaborate "coming out" in which Howard and four other gay men perform their way out of the closet.

Militant Camp?

The primary tension throughout the play is between the rigors of straight, bourgeois practicality and the delights of desire and play, with the latter being clearly identified as a literally "gay" sensibility. But the most refreshing aspect of the play is the way that this tension between the practical and the aesthetic is put to productively political ends. In a hilarious number about the recent surge in anti-gay legislation in states across the country, the name of practically every state in the Union is subjected to a "queer reading," to show the extent to which gay people are woven into the American landscape. As the song goes, "You can't take the "color" out of Colorado, the "sissy" out of Mississipi, the "homo" out of Oklahoma, not to speak of the "Queens" in New York City. The unmistakeable message, then, is that "we" are everywhere and that no amount of bigoted law-making can shut us up.

Another Genius Lost

As happens all too often these days, however, my pleasure in the wit and creativity of When Pigs Fly was somewhat dampened by the knowledge that the genius behind the costumes, Howard Crabtree, won't be around to delight us anymore. He died in June of this year of an AIDS-related illness, only six days after he finished work on the production. More than half of the stream of tears I shed while laughing at this show came from the sight of a seemingly endless array of outrageous costumes of his design. What a wonderful present to leave behind, I thought, as I felt my tears of laughter mingling with a wave of sadness.

[James Keith Vincent/Japanese Literature]

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Art Watch Back Number Index

Dec. 3, 1996 Dec. 17, 1996

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