Employing both physical and incorporeal conceits, Last Drag, the supernal solo show written and performed by Jen Spillane, takes viewers through the dark story of a woman who never quite found her place in the world and exhibits her attempts to find release. It’s being performed at the Art Academy of Cincinnati.
Last Drag exists in time and out of time all at once. It drifts back and forth between narrative reflection and in-the-moment cabaret-style performances. In this Faustian tale, Spillane recounts her character’s past as a child growing up in a rough brothel, through her brief stint at a girls’ home, and finally onto life as a performer vying for the spotlight but ultimately relegated to the chorus.
Spillane delivers this story via chants and poetic verse in a soft, low monotone. With this delivery, she tries to emanate an ethereal, distant aura, an attempt that ultimately leaves the audience more disengaged than drawn to her like a moth to a flame. There just isn’t enough charisma to make her an aloof, seasoned performer that pops off the stage.
Part of what makes the show feel so surreal is the scenery itself. Positioned in front of a black curtain, Spillane herself is dressed in an unruly black wig, dark ornamental robe, and heavy geisha-inspired makeup. The set is minimally lit, with occasional front spotlights that illuminate Spillane as she tells her tale, reminiscent of children telling each other urban legends around campfires with flashlights as their only prop.
The show is exceedingly lyrical, written in what sounds like verse, punctuated by the occasional shift to actual song. However, these shifts from narrative to chant often feel sharp and disjointed, and Spillane’s songs are often lost in the mix between her voice and the background music.
The story itself, however, is quite compelling. Spillane shifts between deep poetic chants and keen observations of the nature of life, all the while injecting wry humor. Her light, low tone adds a ghostly aspect to the story and helps the sheer elegance of the text shine through. The language employed is gorgeous and evocative of a Romantic-era novel, a format this text might ultimately be more suited for.
The show is easy to become absorbed in, but just as easy to fall out of. However, with more charisma and smoother transitions, Last Drag could be a thought-provoking and transcendent show.
The Cincinnati Fringe Festival runs through June 10. Find showtimes, tickets and more info here.