There is a moment towards the start of The Falsettos when Stacey Makishi is telling a story from her childhood about her mother going into hospital. Apparently this was for a cosmetic breast job but four year old Stacey did not know this and was terrified her mother might be going to die. By co-incidence, she was staying in a flat opposite the hospital with her two brothers. She describes herself as looking out the window at the shade cast on the road by the trees lining either side of the street and deciding that if these shadows met in the middle her mother would be ok and they would all be together again. ‘And that’, she says ‘is what I do… bring things together’.
She does indeed in this show ‘bring together’ things that initially seem to have no possible connection an impression enforced by the apparently random, fragmented and distracted way she introduces them and herself. These ‘things’ include the HBO television drama series The Sopranos, the idea of a ‘sequel’, the film E.T, her family in Hawaii especially her mother’s career as a singer abandoned when she married and had children, her mother’s final illness, Barak Obama, a mockumentary film Makishi started making a few years back home in Hawaii, a murder that took place on the island around that time, her own menopause, Barbara Streisand singing ‘On a Clear day You Can see Forever’ and her repeated instance that she and a young man in the audience have encountered each other somewhere before.
In a verbal, visual and physical mapping exercise that traces shared ‘roots’, makes witty and surprising associations and revolves around a series of coincidences in theme, time and space, Makishi gradually weaves together all these disparate threads to form something like a ‘story’. However, like the notoriously inconclusive final episode of The Sopranos this is a story in which it is left up to the audience to tie up the ends.
There is something incredibly and utterly satisfying intellectually about this whole process and its gradual coming together. Struggling to describe it I can only liken it to the experience offered by reading or watching a sophisticated, complexly plotted detective fiction that never for a moment ‘talks down’ to its audience and in which what first appeared to be ‘red herrings’ turn out to be vital clues.
Like such drama at its best, Makishi keeps us constantly on our toes, never sure of exactly what will come next. While her ‘main persona’ is funny, warm and charming, her performance consists of a series of sometimes abrupt shifts of mood, pace and style, from silly jokes to lightening associative repartee or explicit sexual material the recounting of bizarre dreams to exaggerated, comic book physicalisation that is at once abstract and concrete, to the creation of striking visual images, all intercut with video clips and moments of audience participation that at one point includes a full body cuddle.
If as all this suggests she is no respecter of boundaries and indeed delights in the play of fluidity and permeability this includes the boundaries represented by sex/gender systems and her bodily style and expression of/objects of desire, also shift in the telling of her tale.
This overall tendency to ‘fluidity’ may cast doubt on Makishi’s insistence that everything she reveals in this show true, not (with reference to her previous show) ‘bullshit’. I don’t know if in the end this is a matter of literal ‘truth’ but there is no doubt in my mind that within its pleasurable levity, at is core, there are serious and sometimes disturbing even profound ideas about aging, death, art, love and violence.
I hope that the suggestion she makes that this will be her last show does not turn out to be literally true. This would be a sad loss. There are very few artists around that manage to be so funny, so eccentric, so stealthily and cleverly provocative, so wholly original.