I’m very excited to announce that JT and I sat down with Taylor Mac today for an interview that will be published here in the next coming weeks. After the interview we felt compelled to go see some theater so we headed over to La Mama for the opening night of Camp Wanatachi.
Camp Wanatachi offers a witty account of a group of high energy young girls spending the summer exploring themselves at a Christian Church Camp. The dialogue and scenario’s explored by the writer and cast consistently revel in the absurdity of the truth Michel Foucault brought the world to attention to in “The History of Sexuality.” My father is a minister and my childhood could be summed up as one long church camp, so the characters discovery of sexuality through negative imagery and anti sexual discourse brought back a flurry of memories of jacking off boys in tents and copping feels of breasts at an extremely young age between prayers, meals, and hours spent pretending to worship in order to save face and convince my objects of affection that I wasn’t a demon and that yes, my needing their genitalia is fine.
The play is centered on four tween girls torn between physical and spiritual love and their camp counselor. Obviously my favorite character was Daisy – the self described FREAK FOR CHRIST – and her need to come to a just reason for Kurt Cobain’s suicide in the name of love. My favorite aspect of the play is it’s ability to show the multifaceted face of love and the many hats it wears as it continues to haunt the human condition. I expected Daisy and the other girls to all end up in some sort of orgiastic love triangle, after all the play bills itself as a lesbian musical. Instead the play remained safe the entire way through and only offered a PG look into what I remember to be a very an often times XXX experience. Yes, I may be guilty of perversion but while I do strongly feel the play had its head in the right place its choices could have been much bolder. Many good ideas were expressed, like the camp counselor teaching the girls to write a love song using a violin riff from a Peking Opera as the sound accompaniment to a chorus, but instead of fully carrying out the idea the play jumped elsewhere. There were many moments like that one that would have benefited from a bit more danger and risk tossed into the mix. If the choices were a bit bolder the show could have made the LGBT tween drama an engaging experience for serious theater goers rather than a sweet and amusing Off Broadway musical.
Apart from many of the songs being announced just before the singing began, a technique that feels tired and desperate in a musical context, the musical aspects of the play were progressive and exiting. The collaborative effort of Unicornicopia and Machinedrum managed to combine elements of hip hop, dubstep, electronic music, Christian catch phrases, Peking Opera, and other tidbits into an eclectic engaging experience especially younger audiences will relate to and older audiences will appreciate. I’m sure the leading actress Krystina Alabado (Titi) is thankful for the score’s diversity considering she just came off of touring nationally with Spring Awakening – a show with an extremely dull score in my opinion. Titi’s roll as seducer could have been pushed much further, as could the development of a lot of the characters. There were countless opportunities for her to use her shapely figure to enlighten the other characters that were not enacted. Audiences were led to believe that she would use her Lolita like tendencies to push everyone at camp to really question their bond to Christ but only one girl fell for her and her falling turned romantic. I wanted to see deeper into these characters. Conflict between human emotion and God is timeless and always topical and the characters here have lots of potential to express this conflict. I wish the ending results delved deeper here.
Titi appeared at camp late after the other girls had already excitedly joined forces as the Rainbow Rippers, a team of girls bent on becoming warriors for Christ. As non-denominational Christians they accepted individual peculiarities that most Catholics (except now the Catholic church recognizes it’s okay to wear a condom if you’re having sex with a male hustler) would deem appalling, such as punk rock and girls that have abortions. Titi first appears wearing designer clothes, “the coolest shades” with her undies showing… she sings “You Gotta Make It Easy If You Wanna Make It At All” and goes on to explain the greatness of casual sex. The rest of the play is a race between all the girls to become princess of Camp Wanatachi while deciding whether or not to question or accept the world that Titi knows and represents. Saddly, only one girl at the camp really evolves besides Titi, yet it is their relationship that exists at the shows core. The whole evening wraps up waaay to clean and fast, with it’s views balancing somewhere between poking fun at blindsided Christianity and a genuine understanding of its positive attributes. While it’s clear from the start that the point of this show has something to do with universal love and acceptance being the key to all true happiness it’s innovations ultimately don’t add up to more than the sum of its parts. While Camp Wanatachi really seems to long for a believable, spiritually transcendent message, it’s safe choices ultimately leave us with something that’s far more sweet, and charming than it is transcendent or inspiring.