Usually I love Q&As with artists. I generally find hearing about process at least as interesting as the work itself, and often more so.
But last night when performer Jack Ferver came out to discuss his new work Two Alike at the ICA, I could not get out of the room fast enough.
The performance was so powerful and poignant and disturbing, so tender and raw and exposed that I just didn’t want to hear Jack, who is a friend of a friend and whom I know to be smart and thoughtful and entertaining, and whose work I’ve been following for years, regain his usual composure.
A dark exploration of growing up gay, Two Alike is a collaboration between Ferver and the sculptor Mark Swanson, who designed a mirror-backed set reminiscent of the audition stage in A Chorus Line. As in most of Ferver’s work, the piece, which I’d call dance theater but which is most often performed in museum and gallery settings, blends choreography and mostly confessional monologue.
Throughout Two Alike, thanks in part to really fantastic lighting design, Ferver morphs from closeted gay boy hamming it up in his bedroom mirror to sultry, hot guy in dance club to grown-up goofball prone to Pee Wee Herman-like maneuvers. But the stories he tells and interprets are often agonizing.
A masterful performer, he excels at finding that vibrating line between comedy and horror. He often repeats scenes, eliciting hysterical laughter at first – he’s got great comic delivery, and a really funny face – and fear and foreboding the next. In Two Alike, he did this by acting out a scene from the film Return to Oz, which he (or the narrator) said he’d loved as a child and obsessively acted out at home.
I later found myself thinking how much gays in the U.S.– men especially– have in common with African-Americans; both are held up as cultural idols and as pariahs. We’ve welcomed some onto our stages and TV screens and sports fields (So charismatic! So funny!), but that doesn’t mean the majority aren’t still shouldering staggering prejudice, and even real abuse, as Two Alike suggests. “Nowhere will ever be as scary as here,” Ferver says in one scene about being gay in the heartland. “It will be dangerous, but different dangerous.”
By curtain call, Ferver looked wrung out and almost embarrassed, as if he’d just woken up from a trance and realized what he revealed. I don’t remember him ever looking like that before, but it, too, lent power to the performance. I’m still thinking about it.