Six years ago this month, Cristofer Lix was admitted to a hospital with a severe headache, the result of a pharmacist's misreading of his prescription for sinus medication; for two days he had been inadvertently taking a drug for high blood pressure at an unusually high dosage. But after having submitted to a multitude of tests, Lix received grievous news that had nothing to do with the mixup at his neighborhood supermarket's pill counter: At 22, he was HIV-positive. This information, delivered to Lix's mother by a casually blunt doctor as he left a room, marked the beginning of a long period of tribulation. A pageant he calls Concave Pregnancy chronicles his emotional journey.
Lix dominates this potent show; although he's assisted by another performer, he's at the vortex of every scene, conveying his emotions through the use of original spoken word, music and movement. He recounts the advanced illness of his friend James, who was wasted by the same scourge he's thus far survived--"yet," he says, "you were still so gorgeous..." He croons over the austere strums of a guitar, "Though I've lived in silence, soon I'll scream." And he re-enacts the suicidal stupor he reached eighteen months after the diagnosis in the blue light of several television monitors.
Though all of the pieces that make up Concave Pregnancy concern AIDS, they spin off from that hub like planets from the sun after the big bang. Each segment possesses a distinct landscape and environment dictated not only by the assortment of artistic forms Lix employs but by the variety of experiences through which AIDS has dragged him. "Having my mortality shoved in my face has brought me to where I've thought a lot about things most people don't think about until they're middle-aged or older," he says. "People are surprised that I've gotten to where I am quite grateful that I was HIV-positive because of who it turned me into. I wouldn't even be remotely the same person if it weren't for the fact that I'm HIV-positive."
This observation, like many of those that appear in Pregnancy, explores implications of the disease that are generally left untouched by the popular media and other purveyors of AIDS information. The lip service now being paid to this plague hardly begins to touch its human dimension--but Lix's work certainly does. A particularly powerful sequence finds Lix sitting in a chair filling out medical forms while listening to an aural collage of personal questions asked impersonally and hallucinatory echoes from empty hospital halls. As stacks of documents are dropped at his feet, the silent scream that wracks his body, causing him to fall from his chair, perfectly symbolizes the stories beneath so many statistics.
As for the songs that punctuate the presentation, they're sung by Lix, who used to front a Denver band called It, in sonorous, encompassing tones reminiscent of spirituals. An important influence on Lix's music is Diamanda Galas, whose "Let My People Go" is the only number in Pregnancy not written by its creator. Lix says that Galas's cathartic work, which includes a medieval plague mass, encouraged him to "let myself mourn and be angry, then come around and be happy."
There's much more rage than joy in "Smear," Pregnancy's theatrical finale. The section boldly turns components from the Catholic liturgy into emblems of protest. For example, a condom serves as a communion wafer, while a bowl of blood (with which Lix ultimately covers himself) stands in for wine. Allusions are also made to Christ's crucifixion and the lachrymal pedi-bath given to him by Mary Magdalene.
According to Lix, "Smear" sprang from Papal Smear, an event that was originally set to take place several years ago around the time of Pope John Paul II's visit to Denver. Lix, who organized the exhibition with his lover, envisioned it as an opportunity for artists of every ilk to speak out "about how they really felt about the Pope." But the day before the show was to occur, four AIDS activists who'd been involved in a controversial incident at Mount Olivet Cemetery during which garbage bags bearing AIDS slogans were slipped over tombstones, were arrested on charges of conspiracy to harm the Pope. Lix, who claims that three of the four taken into custody no longer lived in Colorado and had no plans to return to the state to catch the pontiff's Mile High engagement, was soon awash in the paranoia that struck the Denver gay community as a whole.
"We were so worried about the people that had been pulled in that we decided it was best to cancel the show," he says. "It was a very difficult decision. But there was heavy suspicion that ACT-UP had been involved in the demonstration--and even though it didn't have ACT-UP's name directly on it, the show was a product of ACT-UP. It was an ACT-UP, AIDS-oriented demonstration." As a result of the cancellation, the debut of his opus was delayed for more than a year. He finally got a chance to perform it at an outdoor festival in Miami. "It went quite well," he recalls. "I didn't think people would stop and watch, but they sure did. The Jehovah's Witnesses had their place of worship nearby, and their service had just let out. They were all standing and watching what I was doing, and when I threw a bloodied Bible, it landed at their feet." He laughs. "I was so lost in the piece I wasn't paying any attention to the audience. Friends relayed the story to me."
As Lix acknowledges, most of the pieces in Papal Smear "revolved around AIDS and the Catholic Church." The latter institution is one he knows well. He was raised as a Catholic and speaks with profound respect about Sister Ann, a nun who has been like a grandmother to him. ("I admire her so much for her convictions, the way she's lived her life, the way she treats people, the way she looks at the world," he says. "It'd be nice to be that strong a person someday.") But his sexual preference put him at odds with the sect's teachings. Eventually, both his parents left the Church; Lix quotes his father as saying, "I can't do it anymore. I can't go listen to what they have to say, because I look at you being my son and I know that it's not wrong that you're gay."
Nonetheless, Lix differentiates between what he sees as the church's evil and the message of Christianity. "'Smear' has been tricky, because I'm not anti-Christian," he insists. "The true nature of Christianity and whoever this Christ/ myth/person was talking about was pretty decent. But it's become such a fucking mess--all about control and power. I've seen so many people damaged, hurt and dead because of what comes down from the Pope and the Church."
Not all of Lix's current project concerns itself specifically with Catholicism, however. An especially strong portion, adapted from a piece Lix conceived in collaboration with Tim Miller (one of four artists targeted by Jesse Helms during his infamous attack on the National Endowment for the Arts), finds the performer describing a march on Washington in a narrative style so honed that each detail seems pivotal, loaded. His storytelling holds one hostage, and his physicalization of his feelings goes well beyond the approximations of a skilled Method actor. "It's hard to re-experience those emotions," he admits. "But I need to do this in order to progress even further. I need to bring these things back up again and play them out for people.
"So much of it is so heavy and intense, but that's what I went through. A lot of it has not been easy and a lot has not been happy. But I'm at a point where I'm happy to be alive. I'm pulling people through a lot of intense emotions, but I'd like for them to come out of the show feeling like there's hope and things are changing and can be better. It's been six years and I'm doing fucking great."
Concave Pregnancy, by Cristofer Lix. 7 p.m. Saturday, May 25, May 31, June 1, June 7 and June 8, Mercury Cafe, 2199 California Street, $5, 294-9281. The June 8 performance is a benefit for the Colorado AIDS Project.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Denver, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.