Roy Cohn/Jack Smith | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Roy Cohn/Jack Smith 

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On the surface they couldn't be more different: Jack Smith, the flamboyantly gay director-actor best known for his 1963 underground sex film Flaming Creatures, and Roy Cohn, the right-wing power broker who denied being homosexual up to the day he died of AIDS. But as actor Ron Vawter and director Jill Godmilow reveal in this film, Smith and Cohn were both performers playing absurd roles. Vawter, a superb actor whose one-man stage show is the basis for Godmilow's movie, portrays Smith and Cohn in two separate monologues. Smith is seen in one of his bizarre multimedia performance pieces--the 1981 What's Underground About Marshmallows--clad in androgynous harem drag (incongruously complemented by his goatee) and rambling on in his spaced-out Bullwinkle baritone about such subjects as the death of Maria Montez and the secrets of "great acting" (how to chop up an onion to stimulate tears). Cohn--clean-shaven and tuxedoed, his nasal tenor periodically rising in a shrill snarl--is depicted addressing a 1978 "pro-family" banquet whose sponsors are raising funds to fight New York's gay-rights bill. Cohn's speech (scripted by Gary Indiana) explores him as a self-hating Jew pandering for Christian approval and a self-described "lifelong bachelor" railing against Sodom and Gomorrah perversion. The one-man show's implied question--whose pose is more queer?--is emphasized by Godmilow's device of intercutting between Smith, Cohn, and Vawter himself as he rehearses and discusses the material. (The offstage episodes are shot by cinematographer Ellen Kuras in grainy black and white, in contrast to the full-color onstage sequences.) While sometimes intruding on the flow of the performances, the fragmentation helps make Roy Cohn/Jack Smith--filmed six months before Vawter himself died of AIDS, the disease that also killed Smith and Cohn--an illuminating study of the actor's art as embodied in Vawter and his subjects. Godmilow will attend a reception as part of Friday's opening. Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Friday, December 1, 7:00 and 9:00; Saturday and Sunday, December 2 and 3, 3:00, 5:00, 7:00, and 9:00; and Monday through Thursday, December 4 through 7, 7:00 and 9:00; 281-4114.

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