The 20th Century Show is part of a larger project in which Mac will delve into 24 decades of American culture, beginning with the nation’s founding, in a 24-hour performance. In Friday’s show, he will turn songs like the overblown Gloria Branigan ’80s dance hit Gloria into a ritual for exorcising outdated assumptions.
“I use the example of Gloria as the last song to be performed without any irony,” he says. “It was such a cheese-ball song that everyone had to be ironic after that. We’re going to let that go, that we can only be ironic or earnest, and be fluid between the two. I make everyone sing it ironically and earnestly, and then combine the two.”
When Alina Troyano, who performs as Carmelita Tropicana, was studying acting and comedy in the early ’80s in New York, she felt isolated not only by her sexuality, but by her Cuban heritage. Her father fought with and then rebelled against Castro, but Troyano remembers hearing her fellow students laugh uproariously at the name of the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater and thinking “Cuban, Puerto Rican, we’re all the same to them — I’m never gonna be an actor. … I’m not tall enough or blonde enough.”
She found her path to an illustrious 30-year career as a theater and performance artist at the WOW Café, a lesbian theater showcase in the East Village.
“I went to WOW and I found something more long-lasting than girls — I found theater,” Troyano says.
She created Carmelita Tropicana, a “Lower East Side beauty queen,” to satirize and encompass her sexuality and her sense of rebelling against commercial culture.
“Before Ellen, before Modern Family or Will and Grace or Glee there was WOW doing all these things at a grassroots level that filters to the top. … It becomes part of the culture and sometimes co-opted,” Troyano says. “We were the generation that thought we were not the mainstream — we were fighting against the mainstream.”
One strand in Post-Plastica Miami is the competition between wannabe art star Plastica and the older Carmelita, who goes into a coma after using expired Botox and wakes up a thousand years in the future floating in a shark tank a la superstar artist Damien Hirst. The wild and satirical mix of themes includes environmental crisis and bee-colony collapse as well as discrimination against Ursa, a bear-woman hybrid.
“Maybe today we are discriminating against a woman with another woman, but maybe in the future it will be against a woman with a transpecies,” says Troyano’s sister and collaborator, filmmaker Ela Troyano.
That thought-provoking mix of ideas is exactly what festival organizer Chavez is after.
“Out in the Tropics is becoming a different kind of festival that really makes people reflect on all sorts of things,” he says. “Nowadays everybody is so entertained. But sometimes we need to think a little bit. Sometimes you need to go to a performance that says, ‘Who are you?’ ”