The crowd filing in to The Carolina Theatre in Durham, NC on Dec. 15th was substantially-sized, full of excitement, buzzing in anticipation to see the great filmmaker, and King (or is it Queen?) of Kitsch, John Waters. The event drew long-time fans of Waters’ films and movie buffs from across the Triangle.
Waters’ directorial canon stretches back to the 1960s and includes such classics as Pink Flamingos; Hairspray, which went on to become an acclaimed Broadway and movie musical; Cry-Baby, which went on to become a huge Broadway flop; Serial Mom; Cecil B. DeMented; and more. Readers beware: this review may trudge into territory the faint-of-heart may find offensive. (This is John Waters we’re talking about here, after all….)
After seeing some of the promotional material for the show, I expected a more elaborately decorated space. Waters is best known for his over-the-top designs, quirky characters, and the brilliant color palate used in his films. To walk in and see two large, cumbersome floral arrangements (which might have been there during Betty Buckley last month?) and a slightly battered podium, center stage, crudely painted green on either side, with a wreath stuck on front, left a little something to be desired. I would blame a traveling set designer, but the program provided by The Carolina Theatre was for a season of works that had closed, and didn’t actually include any information on A John Waters Christmas. Lucky for us, Waters was ready to pick up the slack.
He appeared in a red velvet suit, with tightly trimmed sateen around the lapel, buttoned (top button only, mind you — Waters is always fashion-forward), over a shirt and tie, and what I can only assume were well-made, expensive shoes; Waters confesses to only owning “good shoes.” His trademark pencil-thin mustache was drawn on just above his top lip, and he tossed out a few eyebrow pencils into the first rows of patrons, so they could follow suit.
Within the first 10 minutes of his routine, he had covered a variety of topics: Mormons, Connie Francis, a desire to be part of the “bad crowd” as a child in Baltimore, Balloon Boy, Justin Bieber and his self-worded “perverted” appreciation of the young star (he’s a “Belieber!”), and the late Divine. What followed was an evening of disjointed stand-up: stories from Waters’ past that were, at times, so outrageous that there seemed no reason to question their authenticity.
Once Waters found his wave, so to speak, he was a force to be reckoned with. One minute he’s recounting his fascination with visiting live crèches; the next, he’s immersed in a diatribe on all the things we can get him for Christmas: sticks and stones, books, his acting career back, and so on. Towards the end of the evening, Waters relied more heavily on a “set list” stashed on the podium, ultimately breaking down the “conversation” we had been having with him; the jokes, however, were unwaveringly funny.
My expectations for this “evening with John Waters” did not sync with what I was presented, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. For the die-hard Waters fan — the ones who bought tickets as soon as they were available, who perhaps drove for miles to see the legend himself — this was the perfect way to get to know a new side of the man behind the lens. Clunky transitions from story to story aside, Waters concocted a delightfully edgy, hilariously outrageous evening of Christmas cheer unrivaled in the Triangle area.
SECOND OPINION: Dec. 10th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Craig D. Lindsey: http://www.newsobserver.com/2010/12/10/851736/hes-got-his-own-special-brand.html; and Dec. 8th Durham, NC Independent Weekly preview by Zack Smith: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/not-fruitcake-but-better-a-john-waters-christmas/Content?oid=1866299. (To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Dec. 13th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click https://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2010/12/a-john-waters-christmas-puts-the-x-back-in-xmas/.)
John Waters: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Waters_(filmmaker) (Wikipedia), http://ibdb.com/person.php?id=96208 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000691/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://www.dreamlandnews.com/ (fan site).
The CD: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_John_Waters_Christmas (Wikipedia).
To read all of Jesse R. Gephart’s Triangle Theater Review reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click https://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/jesse-r-gephart/.