Dandy Darkly Hosts His Halloween Creepshow

by Scott Stiffler

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday October 30, 2013

It's the evening of Oct. 31, 2012-and not a living soul is stirring in the pitch-black Lower East Side theater that's been booked to host "Dandy Darkly's Variety of the Damned!" Even the ghost light is dead.

Like most of Manhattan below 30th Street, Dixon Place has been without electricity since Sandy hit-throwing residents into a surreal, disorienting survival mode and cancelling all of the venue's shows, the city's massive spook-themed parade and pretty much everything else that qualifies as business as usual.

Flash forward to one year later-and among the "Stronger Than the Storm" stories that have been flooding local airwaves, you'll find many tales of defiant New Yorkers thumbing their noses at Mother Nature by reclaiming 2012's scrapped plans.

A Kickstarter campaign has infused the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade with enough cash to rise from the dead-and Dandy Darkly is once again booked to rub shoulders with the Witching Hour, when he returns to Dixon Place for a 10:30pm show called Dandy Darkly's Variety of the Damned 2.

Like the journey of renewal his adopted town has taken, Darkly has spent much of the past year making improvements designed to strengthen his core structure in a way that's built to last-but not necessarily built for comfort.

Dread and sex

His is a world of tension, dread and...sex, sex, sex.

The creation of Brooklyn-based Georgia native Neil Arthur James, Dandy Darkly can best be described by harkening back to what we wrote about him last year. Posted on this site just before Sandy hit NYC, "Supernatural Sissy Dandy Darkly Branches Out" was meant to preview his Oct. 2012 Dixon Place gig-Mr. Darkly’s first stab at hosting a variety show.

"If Rip Taylor and Vincent Price farmed out their sperm to a satanic lesbian surrogate," we wrote, "the conjoined twin one imagines might be produced from that fiendish union doesn’t even begin to approximate...the plump but nimble spawn of queer wit, sexual promiscuity and creepshow intimidation...a comedic creation unlike anything you’ve ever seen."

The passing of 365 days hasn’t diluted our assessment of Mr. Darkly’s compelling and original synthesis of humor, horror and graphic smut. It’s the direct result, his creator notes, of growing up absorbing the rich tradition of southern gothic storytelling, during an era when AIDS infused gay identity with a very real sense of danger.

"There’s always been a terror aspect of sex," says Darkly, whose work often features characters who tap into their capacity to find pleasure in what others fear-and victory through violence.

The story he was set to debut last Halloween ("Bitten: A Portrait of Zombie Sex Addiction in Three Body Parts") recasts the plague years of AIDS as a slippery slope that befalls an everyman who is drawn into the taboo world of "barebite" zombie porn. In "Portly Patton, Bear Skinner," a chubby summer camp lad who doesn’t fit in finds his kinky niche by going all Creulla de Vil on the local two-legged bear population.

Ballsy, bizarre tales

Put another pair of ballsy and bizarre tales into that cauldron, and you get "Dandy Darkly’s Gory Hole!"-the ever-changing, four-monologue show that put Mr. D. on the map here in NYC, and thrust him into the international spotlight this summer during an acclaimed run at Scotland’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Clearly in on the joke, The Edinburg Reporter used the same sing-songy style that the alliteration-loving Mr. Darkly employs-calling the show "a shuddering, juddering climax of orgiastic transgression!"

Darkly brought more than a fistful of fawning press quotes home from his trip overseas.

"I’m really striving for a much more streamlined and very fast-paced show," he says of the Oct. 31 gig at Dixon Place. "In Edinburgh," he notes, "There was this Australian variety troupe, Brieff. The energy, comedy and glamour of their show was so inspiring." So too, he says, was the power of silence.

"I really learned to pace myself a lot," says Darkly of his own performance style-which is exhausting to watch, if only in the sense that you sometimes want to rush the stage with an oxygen mask or a glass of water to keep the performer from dropping under the pressure of breathlessly delivering his intricately written tales at such breakneck speed.

"I did the math," says Darkly, "and for [the show’s] 55 minutes, I was saying almost two words per second. Dandy’s delivery is very crisp, with a lot of alliteration. So I learned [in Edinburg] to step back. I think that’s a powerful thing in storytelling. Often, an audience hangs from the edge of their seat if you give them a little bit of silence."

Darkly’s also realized lately that the hetero- crowd has caught up to his winking nods at what used to be hidden gems of gay humor.

"I’ve learned that straight audiences know a lot more inside dope than I ever would have given them credit for," he says, cackling at the thought of a mainstream audience that knows enough to laugh at a poppers reference. That’s good news, because Darkly’s writing is "very queer-centric-and in this world of ’RuPaul’s Drag Race’ and Logo, straight audiences are pretty hip to all the little jokes we have. When I performed in Edinburgh, I expected a lot of stuff to go over the audience’s head-and that was not the case at all. The camp and mince, that bitchy queerness, it was all very well received."

Edge dulled?

So is Dandy in any danger of having the cutting power of his outlaw edge dulled, or at least smoothed, now that the straight crowd isn’t instantly repulsed by his giddy forays into the back alley of gay sexual practices?

"I think the biggest challenge for Dandy," he says, "is that once you see a costumed character, whether it’s drag or clowning, there’s that instant snap decision made: ’What is this?’ And one of the things I respect about good art is that it has something that defies your expectations. So when I put on one of my variety shows, I strive to really create something interesting on the stage-because there’s so much new stuff happening in the New York cabaret scene.

That telling classification, cabaret, is what sets Darkly’s variety shows apart from the current wave of popularity enjoyed by the storytelling circuit. The Dixon Place Halloween bill is not to be confused with a "Moth" slam, where winners are rewarded for coming clean with real-life tales. Dandy loads his bill with musicians and burlesque acts whose stage personas are every bit as bawdy and perverse as that of the host who comes to the proceedings armed with another debut tale.

"My new story for Halloween is ’The Bloodmother,’ about the cult of pop culture notions of reinvention and having to keep up with the incessant distraction of the Internet age. It’s also about celebrity obsession motherhood. The horror elements are pretty gruesome towards the end."

Darkly’s guests include Clay McLeod Chapman, who for over a decade has penned all the monologues for his "Pumpkin Pie Show," a horror-themed night of tales that share Darkly’s same love of southern gothic, circular comeuppance and shock endings. Boylesque performers Johnny Panic and Lewd Alfred Douglas will bring some tight, blood-spattered skin to the proceedings. Swathed in a cocoon as the house fills up, aerialist Lea McGowan opens the show. Killy Mockstar Dwyer, whom Darkly describes as "a balls to the wall kick-ass rockabilly chick who’s incredibly raucous and talented" will perform her own parody songs. Matthew K. Johnson tells a coming-of-age tale that "has a tinge of a ghost story" element to it, and Arch Cape (whom Darkly outs as actually "my really good friend Rachel Blumberg") performs music from her solo project "where she does ambient looping music through pedals and synthesizers to create these spooky, intricate soundscapes."

Dandy Darkly’s Variety of the Damned 2 happens at 10:30pm on Thursday, Oct. 31-at Dixon Place (ADDRSSX). Tickets are $15 in advance or the night of, if you’re in costume. $20 at the door, if no costume. On Nov. 1, Dandy performs his annual secret show, down under the Dick Dock-part of the SpookyBear party in Provincetown. For more info, visit dandydarkly.com.

Scott Stiffler is a New York City based writer and comedian who has performed stand-up, improv, and sketch comedy. His show, "Sammy's at The Palace. . .at Don't Tell Mama"---a spoof of Liza Minnelli's 2008 NYC performance at The Palace Theatre, recently had a NYC run. He must eat twice his weight in fish every day, or he becomes radioactive.

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