The Opposite Sex Many one-person shows are confessional in nature, but few can beat Boys Don't Wear Lipstick, which opened Off Broadway in October. Written by and starring Brian Belovitch, it recounts his 15 years as pre-op transsexual Tish Gervais. At various times an army wife, cabaret thrush, disco diva, drug addict, and prostitute, Tish's eventful existence ended when Belovitch decided to reclaim his identity as a man. (The show's rather shocking finale finds him stripped to his underwear, revealing that his breast implants have been removed.)
Boys Don't Wear Lipstick is structured as a series of monologues, each of which examines another stage of Tish's life. Elaine J. McCarthy's projections provide a crucial function here, providing graceful transitions from scene to scene and filling in crucial bits of information. There are riveting interval passages showing Brian as a boy, then Tish as a bride and, later, a queen of New York nightlife. Most eye-popping are nude photos of Tish, showing just how far his/her masquerade went. At times, the face of Brian as a young boy appears as a double exposure, a haunting reminder of the identity Tish can never fully escape.
In most cases, research is half the work for a projection designer, but here, McCarthy says, she was nearly overwhelmed by Belovitch's extensive collection of photos. "He has this footlocker - a Pandora's Box - and out came more and more photos," she says. "I'm a complete image junkie, but to be allowed access to someone's photo albums and scrapbooks - I was salivating." The designer was especially drawn to photos of Belovitch's early years: "To see Brian's body language with his mom and dad was just incredible. He was an outsider - it was all there when he was four years old."
McCarthy adds, "It was extremely hard to be selective, however. The quality of some shots was not so good. I had a 3" binder bursting with snapshots." Still, the designer had to be ruthless: "It was hard to let go of Tish's beauty school diploma, for example, but there was no purpose to it. I also had photos from her beauty school graduation - she's in this fuchsia toga, trying to look like Liz Taylor. But beauty school wasn't discussed in the script." On the other hand, she did include graphic images, such as a photo of Tish's marriage license: "You read it and think, how did they manage to get away with this?"
Other images were used to set various locations. McCarthy hired photographer McCaren Walsh to shoot various New York backgrounds, although few of them were ultimately used. In one especially comic moment, when Tish is living in Germany with her husband (and serving as the local Tupperware representative), she opens a pair of doors to reveal a campy Alpine landscape, one of only a few rear-projected images in the show.
Working in the cramped Off Broadway Players Theatre, McCarthy placed eight Kodak Ektagraphic projectors on the front-of-house pipe and two projectors upstage for rear projections.
Scott Pask's setting consists of a white curved wall lined with doors made of laminated plastic which, says McCarthy, make a good reflective surface. She adds that she is thankful for the sensitive work of lighting designer James Vermeulen: "He did everything he could to keep our departments from competing." Given the set's configuration and the theatre's limitations, he relied on the heavy use of sidelight, which didn't wash out the images, yet still provided compelling onstage looks.
In fact, adds McCarthy, "The danger of using projections in such a small space is that they seem really big. The first time I put a picture up [director Keith Geer] said, `That's really big.' I always have that problem - the director, and everyone else, gets blown away. You put up an image of a face - it's an 8' face. But they get used to it.
"The thing to remember is, things often look ugly before they look good." That's a rule that Tish Gervais would certainly agree with.
Boys Don't Wear Lipstick also features (as you might imagine) a parade of costumes by David C. Woolard and a complex, effective sound design by Robert Murphy. In spite of an upbeat review in The New York Times, the show closed in November at the Players Theatre.