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arts

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Epperson, John (b. 1955)  
 
page: 1  2  

Epperson's performances as Lypsinka can be enjoyed as comedic entertainment. Adelina Anthony calls him "a master of mad elegance, hilarious timing, and perfect physical expression." But there is more to a Lypsinka performance than light comedy. As Anthony also notes, Epperson's "gender-bending show is also a refreshing delight in the way he explores the dilemma of being pigeon-holed, stereotyped, and feared. His work is very pro-woman, pro-individual, and pro-dignity, without the political preaching."

Epperson has commented that "it's so easy to do mysogynistic drag humor" but that he has "deliberately tried to avoid that." He adds that "a lot of women, when they see the show, felt liberated and empowered."

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Epperson rejects the term "drag queen" for himself and has stated that he does not enjoy much of the drag that is being done because "it is loud and tacky and trashy and has no sensibility or thought behind it." He intends his own work as "a commentary of performance in general and drag performance specifically." However outrageous Lypsinka may be, she is always at heart affectionate toward the women to whose work she performs.

In his cabaret act as Lypsinka Epperson typically does not utter a sound. The entire shows are meticulously crafted from recordings of music and the spoken word, which Epperson interprets through expression and gesture. He has been praised for his ability to convey the wide array of emotions to which Lypsinka is subject as she works her way through the existential crises of her life.

Although Lypsinka does not speak in solo performances, she does when appearing on stage with other actors. The first such occasion came in 1998 in the show Lypsinka Is Harriet Craig!, a send-up of Vincent Sherman's 1950 film Harriet Craig with Joan Crawford in the title role. The Lypsinka production co-starred drag artist Varla Jean Merman (Jeffery Roberson) as Craig's much put-upon cousin. Epperson has also been seen on the big screen as Lypsinka in Barry Shils' Wigstock: The Movie (1995).

Lypsinka has appeared in the George Michael music video "Too Funky" (1999), in several television specials, and in ads for companies such as the Gap and L.A. Eyewear. She has paraded down the runway of Thierry Mugler's fashion shows in Paris, Los Angeles, and Tokyo with other celebrities, including Sharon Stone, Julie Newmar, Jeff Stryker, and Ivana Trump.

Epperson has played drag roles as characters other than Lypsinka on both stage and screen. He earned plaudits as the wicked stepmother in the New York City Opera's 2004 production of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's Cinderella. He portrayed a madam in Paul Schrader's 1994 HBO movie Witch Hunt and also plays a woman in Todd Stephens's Another Gay Movie (2006).

Epperson has played masculine roles as well, including a turn as RuPaul's boyfriend in Charles Winkler's 1996 film Red Ribbon Blues, which did not see theatrical release but has been shown on cable television. He appeared on stage at the New York International Fringe Festival in Patrick E. Horrigan's one-act drama Messages for Gary.

In 2004 Epperson launched a new cabaret piece, Show Trash, in which he plays piano and sings show tunes. Critic Peter Marks cited "eerie parallels between Superman and Lypsinka . . . . Each is an exaggerated version of a manly or feminine ideal. Both might view a red cape as a legitimate fashion statement . . .[but] both have mild-mannered alter egos." Marks praises Epperson for his voice—"strong and clear"—and his choice of selections—witty, soulful, honest, and like his performances as Lypsinka, a sincere and caring appreciation of the material that he presents.

Epperson has also written a play, My Deah, his version of the Medea tale transplanted to Mississippi. It was given several readings, including one at the Studio Theatre in Washington, D. C. in 2004 as a benefit for the Whitman-Walker Clinic, a glbtq health services provider, but not a full theatrical production until October 2006, when it debuted at the June Havoc Theater in New York.

In Epperson's play, Euripides' tragic heroine is re-envisioned as My Deah Hedgepeth, a Louisiana State University beauty queen who has committed the heresy of falling in love with and marrying a football star from arch-rival Ole Miss. My Deah finds the couple settled in Jackson, Mississippi and surrounded by a colorful bunch of friends and neighbors.

Structurally, My Deah echoes Euripides, but Epperson gives the characters an entirely new voice: his are bawdy and funny, as well as completely devoid of political correctness. The Greek chorus turns into My Deah's bridge club members, played by male actors in drag.

In his dialogue, Epperson includes allusions to prominent Southern writers, such as Tennessee Williams, Carson McCullers, and William Faulkner, and also pays homage to the Ridiculous Theatrical Company of Charles Ludlam. Although the relationship between My Deah and her cheating husband, Gator, is a heterosexual one, Epperson has imbued other aspects of his story with a subtext.

For all its broad humor and bawdy fun, however, My Deah is a play with a passionate heart. Reviewer Charles Isherwood of the New York Times noted the opinion of a friend who had seen many productions of Medea and found Epperson's version "the only treatment of the material . . . in which the wronged woman's [killing] of her own children actually seemed understandable."

In March 2009 Epperson staged a reading of James Kirkwood's play Legends! to benefit Friends In Deed, an organization that provides support to people with life-threatening diseases, including HIV/AIDS. In addition to adapting the 1987 script to include more contemporary references to popular culture, he performed as Lypsinka and did a star turn lip-synching a song in his role as one of two dueling divas, the other played by fellow drag artist Charles Busch. Lesbian writer Fran Lebowitz took the part of the narrator, and Bryan Batt, the openly gay star of both stage and screen productions, was among the seven-member cast.

Epperson does not see himself as a particularly political person. On the possibility of gay marriage he commented in a 2002 interview, "I understand why people want the legal benefits of marriage. It just doesn't appeal to me to be married at all." A year later he called himself "too idiosyncratic for anybody to live with me," adding that "traditionally most gay guys aren't interested in going with drag performers, because they just can't go there."

Epperson has stated on various occasions that although the status of outsider can be difficult, he prefers individualism to assimilation. In a 2003 interview he said, "When I see [gay] people who want to be assimilated into the mainstream, I can only say that if Tennessee Williams had wanted to be assimilated into the mainstream, he would never have written Streetcar. Being an outsider made him what he was."

Linda Rapp

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Historically, cabarets and revues have been much more likely to mention or imply same-sex desire than the "legitimate" theater; and same-sex desire has been less frequently condemned in cabarets and revues than in mainstream plays.

arts >> Overview:  Drag Shows: Drag Queens and Female Impersonators

Female impersonation need say nothing about sexual identity, but it has for a long time been almost an institutionalized aspect of gay male culture.

arts >> Overview:  Music Video

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arts >> Overview:  Performance Art

Performance art has been embraced by queer artists as a means of challenging the very idea of traditional in art and culture.

arts >> Busch, Charles

Actor-writer-director Charles Busch has distinguished himself through his virtuouso performances of "grand dame" characters and through his writing of dramatic vehicles for these roles.

arts >> Faye, Frances

Gravel-voiced vocalist and pianist Frances Faye warmly embraced her gay and lesbian audience and was openly bisexual at a time when few other performers dared to do the same.

literature >> Kirkwood, James

Co-author of the book of the celebrated musical A Chorus Line, James Kirkwood also wrote five popular novels and two nonfiction books.

arts >> Ludlam, Charles

An innovator in the "Theater of the Ridiculous," actor and playwright Charles Ludlam drew on many elements of camp and farce, but never allowed them to obscure the seriousness of his themes.

literature >> McCullers, Carson

The fiction of the sexually ambiguous Carson McCullers offers uncomfortable resistance to the social ideal of neat heterosexuality.

arts >> Michael, George

Popular singer and songwriter George Michael, who confirmed his long-rumored homosexuality after an arrest for "lewd behavior" in 1998, has devoted much effort to AIDS charities since 1992.

arts >> Pierce, Charles

Self-proclaimed male actress Charles Pierce took an aggressive stance against homophobia, believing that quick wit, a serious attitude, and consummate acting skill could vanquish oppression.

arts >> RuPaul (RuPaul Andre Charles)

A six-foot five-inch tall African-American drag queen who usually performs in a blonde wig, RuPaul has given drag a new visibility by infusing it with gentleness and warmth.

arts >> Shaiman, Marc (b. 1959), and Scott Wittman (b. 1955)

Composer Marc Shaiman and lyricist and director Scott Wittman, partners in life and collaborators in theater, film, and television projects, have a long list of credits in the entertainment industry.

literature >> Williams, Tennessee

Conflicted over his own sexuality, Tennessee Williams wrote directly about homosexuality only in his short stories, his poetry, and his late plays.


    Bibliography
   

Anthony, Adelina. "Lypsinka! The Boxed Set. (Review)." Back Stage West 8.19 (May 10, 2001): 15.

"As I Light Lypsinka." Lighting Dimensions (October 1, 2003). www.lightingdimensions.com/mag/lighting_light_lypsinka.

Bacalzo, Don. "My Deah." Theatermania. (October 25, 2006). www.theatermania.com/content/news.cfm/story/9308?

Barnes, Michael. "Viva la Diva: Lypsinka Does It Her Way." Austin (Texas) American Statesman (November 29, 2001): 29.

Dullea, Georgia. "At Home with John Epperson: A Day in the Life of Lypsinka's Maid." New York Times (April 16, 1992): C1.

Isherwood, Charles. "Tale of Woe Seems Like a Greek Tragedy." New York Times (October 25, 2006): E6.

LaSalle, Mike. "From the Lips of Lypsinka; Epperson Talks, in His Own Voice, about His New Show." San Francisco Chronicle (February 2, 1994): E1.

Marks, Peter. "It's a Musical Life: Epperson Is Good 'Trash.'" Washington Post (June 16, 2004): C8.

Padget, Jonathan. "Lypsinka Speaks!: Interview with John Epperson." Metro Weekly (Washington, D.C.) (June 20, 2002). www.metroweekly.com/feature/?ak=12.

Pela, Robert L. "Kind of a Drag: Lypsinka Is Much More Than a Drag Queen." Phoenix (Arizona) New Times (April 8, 2004): Culture.

Tallmer, Jerry. "Lypsinka Unplugged: John Epperson Works Hard to Remain on the Outside Looking in." Gay City News (New York) 2.34 (August 22-28, 2003). www.gaycitynews.com/gcn234/lypsinkaunplugged.html.

www.lypsinka.com.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Rapp, Linda  
    Entry Title: Epperson, John  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2005  
    Date Last Updated April 28, 2009  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/arts/epperson_j.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
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Chicago, IL   60607
 
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    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2005, glbtq, inc.  
 

 

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