S/He & Me
Reviewed by Lovell Estell III
Renberg Theatre at The Village at Ed Gould Plaza
Through June 11
A few minutes into her autobiographical show, acclaimed transgender artist Alexandra Billings plops down on a stool center stage, and in an easy conversational tone tells her audience fifteen things about herself. Among these are that she has AIDS, is a recovering heroin addict, was a prostitute for six years, and that she used to hang out with a 72-year-old U.S. Senator who enjoyed dressing up in drag.
It’s her disarming sense of humor and candor that embellishes this 90 minute, multimedia “theatrical cabaret” and makes Billings an engaging onstage presence. Combining song, dance, music and video, she guides the audience on a sojourn through her rollercoaster life. This begins with her formative years as the young boy Scott (Joey Ruggiero), who struggled with feelings of being “other” in a household where spousal abuse was frequent, and where he himself was subject to vicious verbal abuse from his father, who could not accept him. The transition to Alexandra crept along after years of pain, sorrow and drug abuse — but ultimately brought with it self-acceptance, emotional wholeness, and a highly successful showbiz career.
Conceived and directed by Joanne Gordon, all this is presented in a sometimes frustrating, confusing, and non-linear fashion, with lots of digressions and musical interludes. There are also segments where family history and the past are dramatized, with Valerie Stanford and Jeff Paul playing Billings’ mother and father. What truly resonates about this show is the delightful pastiche of musical selections by Jarod Sheahan — his flawless piano playing, and Billings’s equally impressive vocal skills, along with those of Ruggiero, Paul and Stanford. Billings’ roof-raising version of “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from the musical Gypsy is sheer delight.
Brian Moe provides imaginative choreography while Kayla Kearney, Maddie Larson and Christian B. Schmidt round out the ensemble.
Renberg Theatre at The Village at Ed Gould Plaza, 1125 N. McCadden Place, Los Angeles; Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. (Special Sunday matinee, June 11, 3 p.m.). www.lagaycenter.org or (323)-860-7300. Running time: ninety minutes with no intermission.