The cowboy— an enduring symbol of strength, independence, and courage— has been a distinctly American icon for well over a century. He is a sweaty, sunburned, and unapologetically rebellious image of what many people would call “traditional” masculinity. It’s no mystery why cowboys have remained such eternal figures in books, movies, and live theater through the decades– as well as, incidentally, remaining such potent sex symbols for all genders throughout history. Back in the untamed period of the American frontier, male and female roles were pretty darn rigid when compared to the more fluid pathway of sexual identity that we see as we approach 2020. One thing’s for sure, though: both the men and the women of that bygone era knew how to put that “wild” in “Wild West”. Living hard was the name of the game. They worked hard, played hard, fought hard, and loved hard. The roughness, frivolity, passion, and rebellious spirit of classic cowboy/cowgirl lore is on full, fabulous display in The Pioneers Go East Collective’s Virgo Star, now enjoying its World Premiere at New York City’s famous performance space La Mama. Using video projections, dance, live music, and spoken word, Virgo Star is an innovative and interactive multi-media experience– with a hard-working, energetic, attractive, and diverse ensemble cast of performers. The aforementioned modern fluidity of sexuality is feverishly explored in this vivid piece, from delicious displays of gender-bending to searingly unapologetic homoeroticism: In several of Virgo Star’s vignettes, same-sex erotic feelings brewing just below tanned skin eventually explode in a passionate fever pitch. In some scenes, the forbidden desires between the two female characters (Bree Breeden and Anabella Lenzu) drip with sensuality. Another example is the well-choreographed sequence, inspired by the 1948 cowboy classic Red River, between performers Daniel Diaz and Alessandro Magania. The two men perform something of a “mating dance” as they slowly move from playful roughhousing, to aggression, to bona fide attraction and affection. Those scenes, in particular, are hotter than a mid-day Arizona sun.
In the rebellious spirit of the turn-of-the-century pioneers who inspired the show, Virgo Star isn’t afraid to break the rules. In an impressive, well-executed touch, several segments juxtapose the imagery of the Wild West with deeply personal stories of same-sex love and desire from the Pioneers Go East Collective’s creators. One of those stories features Virgo Star collaborator Agosto Machado’s touching, funny, and inspiring real-life story about his childhood and his sexual/creative coming of age in the gritty, 1960’s pre-Stonewall New York City on his pathway to becoming a gay activist and fixture in the downtown Manhattan arts scene. This segment is performed by Daniel Diaz and Machado himself via recording. More eye-popping vignettes follow, including a frenetic Western dance inspired by the traditional American country folk song Cotton Eye Joe. And of course, no Western-themed show would be complete without a tribute to every cowboy’s best friend: his horse:
“I like to ride my horse bareback; it’s muscular build under my thighs confidently cutting through the wild brush working up a shimmery lather of sweat which makes me stick to it’s back. I feel the rhythms of the trot, canter, or gallop and adjust my own movements. Clicking and giving subtle kicks and using my riding crop on its hind quarters when my horse doesn’t obey and needs a reminder about who’s the boss.” Whoa!
Playing multiple roles, performers Breeden, Diaz, Luiz, and Magania all move and emote flawlessly in the appropriately intimate performance space of La Mama’s Downstairs Lounge. Virgo Star is also bolstered by two guitar-and-vocals performances by singer/songwriter Chris Riffle, who delivered a haunting version of Johnny Cash’s Jackson at the show’s opening. He later on performed an original song, I’m Not From Here. Riffle’s voice is remarkably pure, unblemished, and ethereal but still grounded– the musical equivalent of green, untouched prairie land.
Virgo Star has moments of humor, heartbreak, savagery, titillation, and unrestrained eroticism. From start to finish, it is exciting and provocative. If Pioneers Go East’s show teaches us anything about American history, it’s that the exploration of human desire and the need to be true to one’s self is the key to survival– whether in the Wild West or the wild streets of modern-day New York City. Can I get a “Yee Haw!”?
Virgo Star continues through Sunday, December 1 at La Mama’s Downstairs Lounge, 66 East 4th Street, New York City. Tickets are $26 and $21 for students and seniors. You can purchase tickets online at www.lamama.org or by calling 212-352-3101. A limited number of $10 tickets are available for each show. Running time is approximately 75 minutes. You can watch a video teaser for the show here.
Virgo Star is written and devised by the Pioneers Go East Collective, Gian Marco Riccardo Lo Forte and Daniel Diaz, in collaboration with Philip Treviño, Anabella Lenzu and writer/activist Agosto Machado. The show is directed by Gian Marco Riccardo Lo Forte. The production team includes Beth Graczyk (Choreography), Hao Bai (Video Design), Jon Burklund (Cinematography), Philip Treviño (Set & Lighting Design), Gavin Price (Sound Design), Daniel Diaz (Costume Design) and Dmitri Barcomi (Stage Manager).
Visit www.pioneersgoeast.org for more!
Photos courtesy of Carlos Cardena and Jon Burklund for Zanni Productions.