Sins Invalid: An Unshamed Claim to Beauty in the Face of Invisibility
“We are a new body of liberation,” proclaims Mistress of Ceremonies Cara Page, who opens Sins Invalid, a collection of skits by and about people with various disabilities. She introduces each performance and delivers poetic lines in between a parade of images and words that rock the audience with startling new ideas and possibilities. I‘d love to tell everyone to rush right out and see this production, but unfortunately, their only San Francisco performances took place this past weekend, and though I’ve been told they’ll be touring, there’s no schedule on the website. But you can go there for updated information as well as to see great pictures.
The diverse array of performers includes Maria R. Palacios a/k/a The Goddess on Wheels; Nomy Lamm a/k/a BIRD, a fantastically costumed operatic singer; Antoine Hunter, a professional dancer who is deaf; Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasha a/k/a Dirty River Girl; Mat Fraser, recipient of England’s 2007 Erotic Award for Best Male Striptease artist; actors in and out of wheelchairs, bathtubs, and doctor uniforms; full frontal nudity and masturbation – whether simulated or actual is hard to say. Slouches these guys are not: credits pile up next to each name, a litany of accomplishment – books, plays, awards. Polio survivor, thalidomide baby, chronic fatigue…these too are credits, parts of self-identity—and the key word here is part.
I’ve been to quite a few Disability Culture events, so I wasn’t overwhelmed, but I can see how a newcomer might get dizzy trying to take in so much so fast. Not that a lot of newcomers attend Disability Culture events: the temporarily able-bodied tend to stay away until an accident or illness suddenly throws them into this demographic. Which is most unfortunate, not just because anyone can become disabled at any moment, but because the Disability Movement is a place from which fresh and original art is steadily emerging – in fact, it’s one of the most vibrant centers of creativity to be found today. Whenever any group breaks through a long oppressive silence, the result is almost always originality and inventiveness. Though Disability Culture has been around a good decade or two and isn’t exactly new, given the glacial rate of societal change, it can still be considered emergent.
The skit in Sins Invalid that moved me the most was of energetic kick-boxing. Mat Fraser takes the stage by storm, starting out full of joy and self-confidence, jabbing the air with his arms, which bear the unmistakable mark of the drug thalidomide. The taped soundtrack spouts forth a running commentary typical of the temporarily able-bodied, beginning with I think it’s wonderful what you’re doing, and becoming increasingly offensive as the sparring progresses. Fraser is knocked down every so often, falling more frequently as the soundtrack devolves, until he goes down for the
count and so weak he has to be dragged off stage. Later on, Fraser comes back to close the show, naked, climbs into a waiting tub of water and proceeds to take a very sensual bath. This time the soundtrack is “Beautiful Freak,” by The Eels, a wonderful song that celebrates difference. It’s good to see Fraser at home in his body again.
The bath is part of the unshamed claim to beauty, as the title calls it. So too is the edgiest skit, one centered on an S/M scene in which the participants play a variation of Doctor/Patient. I wish I could say this was as well executed as it was courageous.
Before the skit’s actors even come onstage a disembodied voice issues forth a litany of warnings and explanations of what we are about to see. I wonder: are we ever going to evolve beyond apologizing for portrayals of S/M? Will we ever grow up and simply accept that human nature isn’t always “politically correct”? The introductory caveat embarrassed and annoyed me, so I wasn’t in a sexy frame of mind. Then the two actors practically sleepwalked through the skit, generating little heat and even less enthusiasm. The audience giggled nervously throughout – I say ‘nervously’ because there wasn’t a single line of humor as far as I could tell. The audience, however, seemed to love this skit, evidenced by sustained applause. I joined in just to be supportive of Leroy Moore’s awesome courage in masturbating onstage. That isn’t something most people could easily do.
Maria Palacios’ lustful poetry was more of a turnon for me. A feminist writer, poet, and disability activist, Palacios performs hauntingly erotic prose poems from a wheelchair, gesturing with exquisitely expressive upper limbs. She speaks of the sex drive as a ‘desperate hunger’ with such intensity, one can almost feel the hunger rise and ripple through the audience. Even if you hadn’t experienced that particular feeling in a long while, everyone remembers.
Something I really appreciated was the connection to environmental pollution made by a few of the performers. It’s taken some time, but people are finally becoming aware that all these studies and reports we’ve been hearing for fifty-plus years about the “harmless” levels of toxins in our food, water, air, and soil add up to tangible human suffering. When the amount of chemicals in a given substance is deemed safe, at a low enough level to be “acceptable,” it still has a negative effect–after all, even a child just learning arithmetic can add two and two. Environmental toxins in toto go way beyond any level that could be deemed ‘acceptable.’ I don’t know if awareness will lead to change in time to save the human race, but there’s certainly no chance of fixing things without it.
Sins Invalid put on an illuminating theatrical event. If you ever do have a chance to see them, be sure to take it.