Calling Don Becker a "writer/performer" seems hopelessly euphemistic, though it's the term he uses himself. Middle-aged, one-armed and equal parts angry, loony, poetic and raucously funny, the onetime Denver stand-up comic turned performance artist has plenty of surprises on his creative hot plate. That includes Danger, Will Robinson, a work in progress based on Valerie Solanis's "Scum Manifesto," which Becker says is "basically a society for the cutting up of men." (Solanis is remembered primarily as the woman who shot pop artist Andy Warhol.)
"She advocated killing off all men but would have a scum auxiliary kept for breeding purposes," he explains. "I had a funny idea to use the cast of Lost in Space as the auxiliary. I wondered what would happen if Dr. Smith decided to kill off the other guys so he could have a harem. In it, he does--then the women have to decide what to do with him." Why juxtapose the manifesto and kitschy sci-fi theme? "I used Lost in Space partly because there's one part only I could play--no one else in Denver can play the robot. So my hook becomes an asset," says Becker, who's well-known around town for his utilitarian prosthesis.
For the time being, though, he can be seen and heard in Absence Makes the Peter Fonda, a collection of ten short erotic plays opening Friday at the Bug Performance and Media Center. Penned by Becker in the wake of a three-year relationship, Absence is a collection of short, mostly two-person plays, the majority of which take place in bed before or after sex--which is where the production took root in the first place. "I was sitting in bed with my girlfriend and starting writing," Becker says. The rest will be something completely different--and, he hopes, positive and entertaining. "Most of the pornography out there has very little humor," he laments, noting that his vignettes, performed with veteran Denver actor Mary Gay Sullivan in the female roles, represent a theatrical risk, simply in terms of the language used.
According to Becker, words that pass in a nightclub act are harder for audiences to swallow when they're used on the stage. "In the theater, there's more of an artsy ambience--people aren't sure if it's permissible to laugh. They don't know if it's high art or not," he says. And is it high art? "No," Becker admits. "It's low art." But he hopes to somehow transform his message in a cosmopolitan Woody Allen manner.
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"Some are fanciful, some straight-ahead," he says of the plays. "There's no nudity but lots of strong language. It's pretty funny, pretty light, some of it's wacky, and a lot of it is just silly." The last piece, "White Knuckles," is an opera Becker likens to "dancing around the bedroom with your lover's underwear on your head." The music, written by local composer Chris Hewitt, creates a whole new challenge for Becker and his co-star: "Neither Mary Gay nor I can sing," he notes cheerfully.
In spite of the untoppable finale, Becker says he'll then turn the stage over to the all-female band Rainbow Sugar, led by gay white hip-hopper Cindy Wonderful, who will perform such Becker-penned raps as "You Broke Me, Now You Want to Beat Me." Think of it as another facet of Becker's unconventional style, which still eludes definition. And don't doubt that there's a method to his madness: "I thought it would be offbeat to do the erotic plays and then do her band," he says. "There's a certain sexiness to the band. First I give a male point of view, then this provides a nice counterpoint."
Touche. It's a wrap.
Don Becker's Absence Makes the Peter Fonda, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 19-27, Bug Performance & Media Art Center, 3654 Navajo Street, $10, 303-477-5977.
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