by Jordan Cohen
On Monday, February 15, I saw Love Is Crazy, Justin Vivian Bond’s Valentine’s Day Show at Joe’s Pub. Mx. Bond, a beloved staple of the downtown, queer performance scene, has over the decades developed an infectious performance technique that combines eccentric, stream-of-consciousness storytelling, sharp-edged jokes, and a sincere and often seductive song-style.
Mx. Bond, who is originally from the South, exhibits a genial and even demure quality—but don’t let that fool you. It’s part of a complex persona that allows v to sing a gorgeous standard in one moment and make a crude joke about the male anatomy in the next. Above all, v is a truth teller, a keen observer of both the big and the small absurdities of everyday life. V embraces sex, politics, love, romance, friendships, drugs, anger, heartbreak, and so much more, for all that it’s worth, and is never shy about telling us what’s on v’s mind.
“I am full of what I call vague non sequiturs,” jokes Mx. Bond. True to form, v regaled us with what seemed liked dozens of stories and anecdotes, flying hither and thither with mind numbing rapidity from one topic to another. V spoke fondly of v’s time living in San Francisco, where v shared a house with a group of lesbians and went for Jungian analysis despite never having dreams. We heard about two of v’s recent trips: one to New Orleans and another on magic mushrooms. V riffed on hysteria and hamsters (you don’t want to know . . . ) and confessed a newfound love of Valium, reminding us that if the Republicans win the presidency, it’ll be much harder to get drugs, and no less at a time when we’ll really need them. A joke about the Republican debates, which Mx. Bond referred to as “the greatest miniseries since Roots,” elicited the strongest reaction of the night. The punchline? “At least in Roots they had compassion for the slaves.” Ouch. Ooff. HA! Eek. Packed with humanity and the sharpest of satire, it was classic Justin Vivian Bond.
And of course, there were the songs. Mx. Bond opened with the much-covered 1940s hit “Angel Eyes” and made it all v’s own with v’s smooth, jazzy, yet slightly detached performance. Mx. Bond is at v’s best with a colorful standard or a slow, folky ballad, and v’s performance of v’s original song, “Crowley à La Lee,” provided an opportunity to connect deeply with the audience. V brought a whispery and longing quality to Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” and changed things up with some ironic scat-singing in Charles Mingus’s and Joni Mitchell’s “Sweet Sucka Dance.” Stevie Nicks’s “Planets of the Universe,” an elegy for failed romance, was sung as a passionate plea. Mx. Bond closed the set with an epic and resounding interpretation of two Kate Bush tracks, “Aerial” and “Nocturne.” V’s performance of this number was a religious experience for both singer and audience.
Backing Mx. Bond was an enormously talented trio of musicians: Matt Ray on piano (Ray had some truly virtuosic solos), Claudia Chopek on violin, and Nath Ann Carrera on guitar. If you missed v this time around, don’t fret: v will be back at Joe’s Pub on March 12 with another show, Mx America.
Justin Vivian Bond: Love is Crazy played February 14-16 at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theatre. www.publictheater.org