AN EVENING WITH QUENTIN CRISP -- At Ford's. Theater through December 10.
Understandably piqued that "In London, we can wear our eyelashes up to here, have half our hair painted pink and the other half green, be jingling with amulets and safety pins -- and create no sensation whatsoever," Quentin Crisp is at Ford's Theater lecturing on how to develop a noticeable lifestyle.
Crisp, 69, who describes himself as "an elderly queen" and prides himself on dressing the part, is the author of "The Naked Civil Servant," which was dramatized for television in Great Britain. In the first half of "An Evening With Quentin Crisp" he explains the secret of happiness (as it says in the program), and in the second half he answers questions from the audience.
It is in the second part that the reason for interest in his autobiography becomes apparent. The jaunty and cheerful humor with which he addresses not only homosexuality but its stereotype is a relief after all the deadly manifestos one has heard in attacks and defenses. He's rather in trouble among London homosexuals "for being the very conventional view of a homosexual person," he explains. "In London, it's the fashion to run around saying we're really quite ordinary. Of course, it never works, because ordinary people never run around saying that."
But an hour's worth of the "secret of happiness" is nothing but television-commercial philosophy: you deserve the best, be yourself, pamper yourself, develop your lifestyle, surround yourself with the things you really want.
Perhaps it is that the times have overtaken Quentin Crisp, a disaster when one is hoping to be outrageous.
"Give over looking at others and look at yourself so as to discover and decide who you truly are and where you're going," he advises, as if talking to a society of ego-deficient altruists to whom the question of self-importance and self-identity -- looking out for No. 1 and being your own best friend -- must come as a shock.
Hog heaven, as Crisp makes clear, is being a celebrity. But life has overtaken Crisp even in his examples of celebrity success. Joan Crawford, whose adopted daughter has recently made a case for her having been a miserable sadist, is extolled by Crisp for being "radioactive with belief in herself." After citing Eva Peron as a political "triumph of style," Crisp suggests we may not believe him -- but there is a hit musical in London, "Evita," which has long been using that illustration with more wit.
The most obvious error of age is his description of youth: "In youth, the sheer joy of living is enough." Is it because youth is so carefree that we must learn to find happiness "by making style a religion" when youth is gone?
Being a "queen" is something Crisp is able to convey with amusement. It's the "elderly" part that is sad.