The Performant: Strangelove

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“City of Lost Souls” at ATA, and “Awkward Dinner Party” at the EXIT Theatre, subverted the Valentine spirit.

Talk about a hot mess. The florid, fluid, City of Lost Souls (1983), Rosa von Praunheim’s seldom-screened, "transgendered ex-pat food-fight sex-circus musical extravaganza" begins with a motley cast of unapologetic misfits sweeping up a trashed-out Berlin burger joint, the “Hamburger Königin” (Burger Queen). Shimmying on the counter, falling out of her lingerie, punk rock’s first transwoman cult darling, Jayne County, belts out “The Burger Queen Blues” while her fellow wage slaves, Loretta (Lorraine Muthke), Gary (Gary Miller), and Joaquin (Joaquin La Habana) gyrate suggestively across the linoleum until the boss-lady, Angie Stardust (as herself), a regal, “old school” transsexual wrapped in an enormous fur coat, curtails their goofy antics with a whistle and megaphone.

In stern German she orders them back to work—preparing for the next round of abusive food fights, which characterize the “service” at her uniquely unappetizing restaurant. A Theatre of the Ridiculous-style foray into the secret lives of gender outlaw ex-pats in flirty, dirty Berlin, “Lost Souls” isn’t your typical romance—but it’s a love story all the same.

Though much of the film adheres to just the merest suggestion of plot, the characters that emerge from its glitter-dusted frenzy are well worth getting to know. Angie Stardust in particular is given reign to share not just her conflicted opinions of Germans and Germany, but also her stories of childhood abuse, reminiscences of her career as a club singer in New York, and her longing for gender-reassignment surgery.

A model matriarch of the tough-love variety, she alternately flatters and bullies her employees and tenants of her Pension: the glamorous Southern trannie Tara O’Hara, the “sexual trapeze” artists Tron von Hollywood and Judith Flex (who also narrates much of the film in humorously-exaggeratedly, American-accented German), the frail, pouty Loretta, trashy, spotlight-seeking Lila (Jayne County), and downright spooky Gary—not just a burger-flipper with a smoking hot dancer’s body, but a quasi-cult leader and practitioner of erotic black magic.

Presented at ATA by New York’s Dirty Looks film series, the film manages to wear serious commentary on racism, homophobia and transphobia, ageism, politics, abortion, and sexual identity on its gold lamé sleeve, while shamelessly rocking shredded pantyhose and too much mascara, masturbating from the perch of a flying trapeze, serving dog turds as dinner, and billing writhing orgies with nubile bodies as “group therapy”. Recently restored, this historical, hysterical document of Berlin-dwelling sexual revolutionaries provides giddy enjoyment alongside its food (fight) for thought, from Jayne County’s signature grimaces, to Tron von Hollywood’s rippling abs.

While no dinner is so awkward as one in which dog turds serve as the meat, improv concept show “Awkward Dinner Party” rallied with a boorish dinner guest (John Kovacevich) who turned out to be a 4000 year-old deity with a crush on the hostess (Lisa Rowland), a gracious retiree saving up for a Winnebago with mild-mannered husband Frank (Dave Dennison). Conceptualized and performed by Rowland and Dennison, every “Awkward Dinner Party” features a different guest star, and as a completely improvised work, each night promises to be its own unique smorgasbord.

What remains a constant is the awkward -- the dinner guest you can’t get rid of no matter how boring (or scary) they might be, the third wheel who reminds you why you became a coupled two-wheeler in the first place. A nomadic production, ADP will be serving its next tasty improv at Noh Space in April. No jacket required, but an RSVP is always a nice gesture.

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