Love Connie Hits Provincetown
by Steve Desroches
If you’re a big fan of Ann Dusenberry, Donna Wilkes, and Gigi Vorgan, you’ll love Love Connie. If you have such slasher horror classics like April Fool’s Day, Sleepaway Camp, or the original pre-Jason Friday the 13th committed to memory, you’ll love Love Connie. If you watched the classic revenge film Carrie and laughed and pointed as she set prom night on fire, you’ll love Love Connie. If there ever was a Generation X drag queen its Love Connie, the creation of actor John Cantwell. Obsessed with the B horror movies, music videos, and lesser known actresses of his youth, Cantwell created the hirsute, aerobics-obsessed character as an homage to the girl most likely to not do anything terribly spectacular, with the exception of possibly murdering all of her classmates in a telekinesis-lit inferno, or just fall down at graduation. But Love Connie always gets back up.
“She’s a bayou queen who runs through a huge range of emotions, but is really in essence just an extension of me, a version of me,” says Cantwell. “She’s that girl you went to school with. That girl that never won anything but always tried and was surprised when she didn’t succeed. She’s that girl that’s in a bar and is a little too loud, but is adorable in her way. She’s that girl that you’re always rooting for, but you also keep at a certain distance as she’s got a wild animal quality. But you’re always rooting for her. Just like Carrie at the prom, everyone roots for Connie, even if it ends in flames.”
Born in Mississippi and raised in Louisiana, Cantwell is well known to Provincetown audiences as a member of the comedy troupe the Nellie Olesons, a staple of the entertainment scene here from the late 1990s and the 2000s. Love Connie, the characters full drag name, was born out of those performances, and has taken off with a strong cult following in Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, within its strong LGBTQ community. Quirky, smart, and fun, Love Connie’s shows are largely without dialogue and are inspired by film and television of the 1970s and 1980s. Fast-paced and done with full-throttle energy, the shows are a hit for their originality and absurdist-meets-film-noir qualities. If it sounds strange, well, that’s because it is. But it’s also a great deal of fun and hilarity, promising a soft landing to everyone adventurous enough to lean into Love Connie. And this week Love Connie returns to Provincetown with Luv Me, a backstage look at the life of the loveable hot mess with big dreams as the love child of Ann-Margaret and Iggy Pop.
“It’s kind of drag, mime, performance art, but accessible to the lowest common denominator of comedy,” says Cantwell from his home in Los Angeles. “The audience can be a voyeur. I’m definitely inspired by Brian DePalma and Alfred Hitchcock, so there is usually a running theme of mystery, being under attack, and danger, too. Anything could happen!”
While Generation X can often be lost culturally between the behemoths that are Baby Boomers and Millennials, there are undoubtedly artists and creative imprints that are clearly of that generation, with Love Connie being every bit a representation as much as a Farrah Fawcett poster or Pac Man. Generation X was really the first generation to have such an incredible reach into pop culture and media of not just its own generation, but the past. And what was of its own time was available in Andy Warhol-style repetition. The accessibility of VCRs and home video rentals gave Cantwell and others in his age group the opportunity to see films over and over again. Add into that the arrival of cable television with channels like HBO and MTV showing movies and music videos in heavy rotation due to a lack of what today’s world would call content. So he saw films like Porky’s and the delightfully tragic The Pirate Movie so many times as to be a student of them as well as videos by the Cars, Tina Turner, Pat Benatar, and Def Leppard. It was also time of an explosion of horror films, many of which were only released straight to video. Cantwell noticed early on that he was always drawn to the women in his favorite movies, television shows, and music videos. As he watched over and over again he learned who these actresses were and memorized their resumes, like Dusenberry, Wilcox, and Vorgan, all scream queens from the 1978 sequel Jaws 2, whose performances may very well have gone forgotten if not for the arrival of home entertainment. As an effeminate boy in the conservative Deep South, his affinity for these camp classic women had to remain a secret as that kind of loveably nerdish devotion made him a target for homophobic bullying, from children and adults alike. It also communicated to him that he was not to have women as role models, something he rejected and doubles down on with Love Connie.
“I’ve never been diagnosed, but I clearly have A.D.D.,” says Cantwell. “So it helps that I could see a movie 10, 20, 30 times, as that’s how long it takes for me to pay attention to understand what is going on because I’m usually focused on the girl who plays best friend number three chomping on chewing gum in the background. Most might not even notice her. But I see her and want to know everything about her. I’m rooting for her, not the star. That’s what Love Connie is all about.”
Love Connie presents Luv Me at the Red Room at Velvet, 258 Commercial St., Wednesday, July 13 through Friday, July 15, at 7 p.m. Tickets ($35/$45) are available at the box office and online at redroomatvelvet.com.