Regional Reviews: San Francisco
A "Doggone" Good Side-Spitting Performance by Leslie Jordan
I have never been a big fan of one-person shows, especially when the person is confessing all of his or her phobias while growing up, but Leslie Jordan is one of the most entertaining persons you are likely to see on any stage. He is a superbly charismatic storyteller helped by a delicious Southern deep feeling when telling these stories. As he says on stage, "Each story is just fraught with tragedy."
Leslie has become famous as the arch nemesis of Karen on the hit television series Will and Grace, now on reruns in every television market in this country. His fan base stems from the astounding success of Del Shore's cult classic film adaptation of his play Sordid Live in which Leslie played the break-out role of Brother Boy who loved to be in drag. This film played well over one year in Palm Springs and still has midnight showings at their local cinema.
Appearing briefly last year at the annual Richmond/Ermet Aid Foundation benefit Help Is on the Way, Leslie is making his first full length appearance in our city. It is about time we saw this superb teller of tales with a lyrical Tennessee Williams voice doing his full act to an appreciative audience at the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre in San Francisco. His wild and energetic movements and facial expressions, along with his down home attitude, break up the mostly male audiences at the theatre at 620 Sutter Street on a nightly basis.
The show opens with Leslie speaking from behind a dressing room screen as if he is getting into the drag outfit he used in tSordid Lives. However, he comes out in seersucker suit and loafers and says, "I am just not a drag queen." This starts a fun fest during which he is alternately screamingly flamboyant and poignantly intimate. This is a tour de force of comic acting. He looks like the famous Irish writer Frank McCourt; however his accent is certainly not Irish.
Leslie talks about his childhood with his two bizarre sisters. Sister Bette was an all-day alcoholic who wore footwear known as "biscuit sappers" ("She taught me to drink in the daytime"). She loved to swing her cats in a bag to increase their circulation. Sister Irma was a horse trainer who looked like Barbara Stanwyck with a whip in Big Valley. (As for their behavior, Leslie said "We Southern folks don't put crazy people away. We put them out on the porch so everyone can enjoy them.") He talks about his father who was a handsome Lt. Colonel in the army and a "man's man," and his mother with a perfect flip hairdo. He talks in a comic way about the horror of playing dodge ball in school where everyone wanted to "hit the queer" with the ball.
This wonderful artist is very honest about his struggles with alcohol and drugs, and it is a wonder the 51-year-old still has a liver and a brain. His past substance abuse problems led to five arrests by the Van Nuys police when he was 42. He was sentenced to 120 days in the work house where he was afraid of what would happen to him since he is extremely fey. However, the inmates happened to get HBO in the pokey and they had been watching repeated airings of the crazy comedy series Ski Patrol that starred George Lopez as well as Leslie Jordan. So Leslie became a star in the Los Angeles work house and was assigned to the "celebrity tank" where he spent one night with Robert Downey Jr. ("He was top and I was bottom," referring the bunk beds after moments of hesitation).
Leslie relates many wonderful stories, including one about his first audition for a commercial for the Selective Service and getting the part of a very fey angel. This commercial ran 10 years on Los Angeles television. He has a serious side also when he asks, "Is there more to life then boys, bars, sex and brunch?" He tells of his affinity for young street hustlers and warns that these boys will lead you to ruin. When he was making money in films, Leslie said, "More rent boys on Hollywood Boulevard were wearing new tennis shoes."
Still regretting not having a lasting relationship, he has taken stock of himself, deciding that there's more to life than those superficial pleasures. He identifies with the title of the show, since it refers to a creature who tries urgently and pointlessly to get some traction before settling down. You come away from the theatre realizing that you have seen an amazing performance of acting by a performer with an inherent charm and brilliant sense of timing.
Leslie Jordan's Like a Dog On Linoleum has been extended through July 30 at the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 620 Sutter Street, San Francisco. Tickets may be purchased on line at www.brotherboy.com or 415-474-8800.