The National Legion of Decency Rates This Show “O” for Morally Offensive

July 19, 2017 1:29 pm0 commentsViews: 113
Peaches Christ  Photo: David Ayllon

Peaches Christ
Photo: David Ayllon

by Steve Desroches

Often when cultural histories are told it seems that great creative capitals like New York, Los Angeles, and Nashville receive almost all of the credit for producing the most influential movements, genres, and stars of the great works of our time. Even the underground, which eventually bubbles up to either influence or evolve into the mainstream, often appears native to our nation’s largest cities. But lately more and more attention is being paid to a cinematic phenomenon that came out of the Maryland suburbs, forever changing film, pop culture, and the LGBTQ community.

The films of John Waters were initially received as shocking and revolting underground films. And while they had cult audiences, his movies were met by condemnation from the Catholic Church and the Maryland State Board of Censors. But now he’s been the subject of a major retrospective at Lincoln Center and received an honorary degree from the Rhode Island School of Design.  His works has inspired countless people either in their own artistic pursuits, or in their personal lives, including San Francisco drag legend Peaches Christ. It’s also true for those who starred in his films. and this week at the Art House, a one-night-only event will focus on this flourishing legacy the San Francisco drag legend and the Dreamlander superstar Mink Stole appearing on stage in Idol Worship, a variety show featuring conversation, performance, and some surprises. The two have been friends for over 20 years, but Stole’s, and Waters’, influence over Peaches (a.k.a. Joshua Grannell) goes back to when he was in junior high in 1988 and saw Hairspray for the first time.

“It completely blew my mind,” says Grannell. “It was more than transformative. It showed me there was a world bigger than what I was living in. Anything was possible! Then I saw Pink Flamingos and then I saw Female Trouble. They were my heroes. Mink was my Elizabeth Taylor. Divine was my Joan Crawford.”

Growing up in Annapolis, Maryland, Grannell felt the tight reins of living in conservative suburbia, as did Stole, who hails from a rigid Roman Catholic part of Baltimore, the city Waters and the Dreamlanders put on the map with bad taste and their wild ways.  The words written by Waters shocked and delighted both Stole and Grannell, though some 20 years apart.  And while both natives of the Old Line State, it’s appropriate that the two should reunite on stage in Provincetown, a place where Stole lived for many years in the Sixties and Seventies and where Grannell is quickly become a star performer with his stage shows and films.

Mink Stole as Taffy Davenport in 1974’s Female Trouble (directed by John Waters).

Mink Stole as Taffy Davenport in 1974’s Female Trouble (directed by John Waters).

Just like Grannell, the films that Stole made such memorable performances in changed her life, too. Living in misery in a bland and boring suburb, it was meeting fellow cast members like Divine, Cookie Mueller, and Channing Wilroy that made her feel less alone in the world. She realized that all this time she should be with these people rather than trying to fit in with those people who were making her so unhappy. And she continually finds more and more people in her tribe. It was one night in San Francisco, though, that Stole received star treatment like never before when she was invited to be the very first celebrity guest at Peaches Christ’s famed Midnight Mass, a midnight movie screening she hosts.

“I came up having no idea what to expect,” says Stole from her home in Baltimore.  “As I was walking down the aisle there was an animatronic Peggy Gravel on the stage mixing a rabies potion. I immediately fell in love. I was so surprised.”

This appearance marks the first time Stole has been back to Provincetown since appearing in productions of Now the Cat With Jewelled Claws and The Mutilated with Penny Arcade at the Tennessee Williams Theater Festival several years ago. Grannell appears on stage this summer in Return to Grey Gardens with Jinkx Monsoon and the new political spoof 5 to 9 with Ryan Landry and Varla Jean Merman. While the duo have appeared on stage before, Idol Worship marks the first full-length stage collaboration in what they both feel is a growing excitement to share stories in an only-in-Provincetown kind of affair.

In a dream come true for Grannell, Stole had a leading role in his first feature length film, 2010’s All About Evil, a dark comedy horror film also starring Natasha Lyonne and Cassandra Peterson (often better known as her character Elvira, Mistress of the Dark). The stylish, campy slasher flick thrilled audiences and was shown at the Provincetown International Film Festival, which brought Grannell to town for the very first time. The film quickly garnered a cult following, much the same way Waters’ early films did, but Grannell was able to do so without the bother of self-declared protectors of morality that existed in the early days.

“There was the Legion of Decency and they had their own ratings system, and they would label movies morally offensive,” says Stole. “If you saw one of those movies and then left the theater and got hit by a bus and didn’t confess it before you died you went to hell. I think they’ve lightened up a bit these days, but back then a lot of stuff sent you straight to hell.”

Idol Worship featuring Mink Stole and Peaches Christ is onstage Tuesday, July 25 at 8 p.m. at the Art House, 214 Commercial St., Provincetown. Tickets ($40 general/$65 for VIP) are available at the box office and online at ptownarthouse.com. For more information call 508.487.9222.