By TJ Acena, PQ Monthly
Halfway between performance and performance art, D.I.V.A. Practice sets out to examine what it is to be “fabulous in the face of uncertainty while questioning the significance of drag and gender in contemporary culture.” This performance is actually the second cycle of a larger work by Pepper Pepper (Kaj-ann Pepper) and features local artist Mister E (Erika Stanley). The two are dressed in similar undergarments and wigs as they lip synch opera (harkening back to the 19th century meaning of the word diva), perform sensual and grotesque dances with clown noses on, or laugh manically wearing giant sparkling vagina costumes. These descriptions should give you a pretty clear idea of what to expect.
It’s a funny, if inscrutable, show. Pepper makes excessive use of awkward pauses to both bring in humor and force the audience to be present in the moment and consider what is happening onstage. This is used to great effect during a bit where the music keeps cutting out during a lip-synching performance, rendering the pair powerless, illustrating the technical artifice which drag relies on.
While Pepper relies on a dry humor to engage with the audience Stanley is an effortless performer and dancer and is captivating to watch, providing a nice counterbalance. There are a few parts of the show where the performers address the audience directly, talking about their own paths to drag, the iconic women who inspired them, and what can be problematic about drag. These are interesting and give the audience something to hold on to, but there are too few of these moments, they introduce ideas without really delving into them. I did walk out of the show thinking about what drag is and its significance to contemporary culture, but without any hard questions or statements to dig into I found myself more interested in reminiscing over the strong visuals and humor of the show.