Kevin Thornton’s Sex, Dreams and Self-Control is a tour de force. At times hilarious, at times poignant, it's the story of a reluctant gay boy (later man) who's made to feel incredible shame for his sexuality. The performance is at once genuine, entertaining, poetic and professional.
The stories Thornton tells of his childhood, alternately hilarious and heart-wrenching, have the ring of authenticity. They begin when Kevin embarrassed his family through his naive enthusiasm for a bunch of male strippers on television. There is a folksy quality, an innocence to his recitation of these childhood memories, which makes the sexual frankness and violence stand out in greater relief and enhanced believability.
When Pastor John, a great influence on the boy’s life, informs Kevin that he has “no compassion for gay kids,” it fairly destroys him. As a senior in college, Kevin actually decides to have sex with four different guys and winds up with crabs. The result of this experience is a macabre dream, like something imagined by Dante. What ensues is a very descriptive, atmospheric, and creative rendition of a hell for gays: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”
Pastor John is funny and scary at the same time. He gives Kevin a book from Exodus Ministries, designed to convince people to “come back” from gayness. After Kevin quits college and returns home, the dutiful pastor visits him at his place of work, the Olive Garden, and announces, “It is my duty as a youth pastor to keep you from masturbating.” But my favorite line is the title of one of the show’s many songs, “After Bible Study Hand Job.”
Although the entire show is poetically allusive and playfulness with words, the explication of Kevin’s dreams is mysteriously abstract and eloquent. Spiders are always popping up, including one he dreams about in a canoe. His hell-for-gays dream is visualized quite completely and more than a little disconcerting. The final song, “When You’ve had Enough,” has a bittersweet, almost plaintive quality.
Thornton himself is an ultimate professional, who plays through a 90-minute set without hesitation. He acts, plays the guitar and sings with energy and sensitivity. He wheels through the material with gusto and with profundity of feeling. Fringe patrons should take the opportunity to embrace this riveting and rewarding experience.
Performed at Coffee Emporium through June 6. See performance dates and preview here.