Dynasty Handbag and Anna Oxygen, Pieter PASD, January 23, 2010
You don’t really want to wrap your mind around Dynasty Handbag at first. She comes on like a feral creature, that one, and her raw, many-splendored genius is something that you want to let wash over you like a sudden rainstorm.
But then you start thinking about all the performers she reminds you of, and whose tools she uses in some way—the drag fabulousness of Frank N. Furter and Carol Channing, the scathing sarcasm of Sandra Bernhard, the visceral emotions and psychobabble of Karen Finley, the painful, rubber-faced irony of Strangers with Candy, the punk-rock ferocity of early Joan Jett. And you think that the name “Dynasty Handbag” kind of makes sense—that she is, perhaps, the latest heir to this bastard performance art lineage, one who carries her predecessors with her in a purse, only to scatter its contents after artfully tripping onto the stage.
Handbag’s subject matter ranged from theatrical tropes to dark matters of the heart, as she made fun of showbiz clichés (showing off her high and low note range like an R&B singer, pompously thanking the audience for coming out and supporting her), acted out twisted social scenarios (her encounter with a “violent, aggressive” girl gang who threatened to “cut her”), and sang a few songs “about my mommy” (“Death Wish”) or about a shitty, envious childhood (“I Want to Live in Your House”). Her physical agility was dazzling; many of the laughs came from how accurately she aped and subverted familiar performative movements. The deeper resonances, however, came from that fucked-up wormhole that we all have inside of us, that dark unreasonable place that is terrifying and, ultimately, hilarious.
A native of Mendocino County who cut her teeth in the San Francisco underground music scene, Handbag has lived for the last six years in New York, where she’s built a reputation as “a crackpot genius” and “the most promising new performance artist currently working in New York’s downtown scene.” Her performance on Saturday night was a treat for the LA crowd, and a grand way to inaugurate Pieter PASD, a space just opened by a pair of recently relocated New Yorkers.
Anna Oxygen—an LA–based performer and member of the collaborative group Cloud Eye Control—provided a warm, participatory intro to the evening by performing a handful of songs, most of them original, with a couple of covers of traditional Scottish ballads thrown in. The best number mimicked a fitness class, complete with aerobics and floor exercises, and asked for people in the room to move along with it. Several folks bounced happily, and there were more than a few skinny-jeaned legs in the air doing scissor kicks, making for a rather enjoyable audience sculpture.