Why hello there! What are you drinking, Mary? A pumpkin spice latte? BLECH! Get that swill out of here, queen, and I’ll give you some of our World Famous Pumpkin Punch. Sure, it might taste like hot pumpkin gin water but if you drink enough of it, you won’t even remember you don’t like it.
Well, it’s that time again for another Party Out Of Bounds post. I was planning on writing a serious post today but then, I realized: it’s Friday! So sit back, grab another glass or two of our pumpkin punch and let’s celebrate that lip-synching queen of camp: Lypsinka!
The Ridiculous Theatrical Company’s Charles Ludlam once wrote, “Camp is motivated by rage.” If he’s right (and when isn’t Charles Ludlam right?), then Lypsinka must be very mad indeed. Nostalgic, subversive and above all, campy, Lypsinka’s performances transform the dialogue and songs from mid-20th century scenery-chewing stars such as Joan Crawford, Gloria Swanson and Bette Davis into a hilarious yet provocative musing on the significance of these heroines to identity building, particularly for queers.
The drag alter-ego of John Epperson, Lypsinka…well…lip-synchs her way through edited clips from over-the-top performances, showing both a deep reverence for these actresses and poking fun at their outrageousness. Making the voices of these women her own through her enormous exaggerated lips, Lypsinka’s own identity as a performer is built through the hysterics of these Hollywood hams.
Born in Mississippi, Epperson moved to New York in 1978 where he became the rehearsal pianist for the American Ballet Theatre. Lypsinka first emerged on the stage of East Village clubs such as the Pyramid Club. In addition to performing frequently in Wigstock, Lypsinka also created several solo shows such as The Boxed Set, I Could Go On Lip-Synching and The Passion of the Crawford, a recreation of Joan Crawford’s unsurprisingly terrifying 1973 interview.
Not only borrowing words from an earlier era of Hollywood, Lypsinka’s performances seem out-of-time, a throwback to the drag queens populating Esther Newton’s Mother Camp. Discussing Lypsinka’s show I Could Go On Lip-Synching in his essay “Gay Men, AIDS and Camp in U.S. Theater” included in the camp bible Camp Grounds: Style and Homosexuality, Davis Roman explores Lypsinka’s use of an older form of nostalgia and camp during the height of the AIDS crisis. As Roman states, “Lypsinka’s performance marks a self-conscious retreat, for performer and gay spectator alike, into a pre-AIDS moment, recalling an era when camp and drag were, arguably, sources of empowerment and survival, as well as entertainment” (216).
By highlighting camp as an essential coded language for not only earlier generations but contemporary audiences as well, Lypsinka’s performances reveal the use of camp as a means of building a self-fashioned, anti-heteronormative identity, as well as a community. As Roman explains, “since Lypsinka never speaks, the audience is given no choice but other than identifying with and then contextualizing the prerecorded voices that give shape to the performance. Revival, Lypsinka seems to be saying, equals survival” (214).
Constructing Lypsinka’s own persona through these adopted voices, Lypsinka transforms into another one of these divas. Roman observes, “Epperson writes himself into the very same diva fascination by which he/she holds the audience unconsciously complicit” (214).
Luckily for those of us who worship Lypsinka just as much the Hollywood greats, Lypsinka recently announced her return to the New York stage after nine years. From November 5 to January 3, 2015 at the Connelly Theater, Lypsinka will be performing Lypsinka! The Trilogy, three different productions of The Boxed Set, The Passion of the Crawford and John Epperson: Show Trash. I’m already mouthing random phrases with glee just thinking about it!
So in anticipation for Lypsinka! The Trilogy, let’s take a walk down memory lane with some of my favorites from Lypsinka. She’s ready for her close-up, Mr. DeMille.
Naturally first in memory to Joan Rivers who sadly passed away yesterday, we have to feature Lypsinka’s sublime appearance on the Joan Rivers Show: