Performance legend Justin Vivian Bond's elemental romance with the city blossoms in new show 'Love is Crazy!'
THEATER This week, at New Conservatory Theatre Center, San Francisco's Evan Johnson remounts his popular 2013 solo play, Pansy. It's the story of a disaffected twentysomething gay man who discovers a cache of videocassettes in the basement of his SF apartment building — made by someone who could be considered his doppelganger, a club kid long since felled by AIDS. The play functions in part as a communion between a younger generation of queer San Franciscans and the early era of the AIDS crisis.
Of course, there are those who, in their lives as well as work, continue to bridge the two eras, maintaining a vital link to this fraught but fecund period in SF's queer/queered history. One of them is the inimitable Justin Vivian Bond. Mx. Bond has long since been based in New York, and yet v (to apply the preferred prefix and pronoun to someone who has gracefully sidestepped the dominant gender binary) grew into an artist here, and has returned to SF many times over the years, including for packed performances produced by Marc Huestis at the Castro Theatre.
Although maybe still most often identified with the cabaret sensation Kiki and Herb — a Tony-nominated, long-running duet with Kenny Mellman, in which Bond excelled as the perennially sloshed Kiki Durane — Bond's career has hardly slowed since K&H were put to rest more than five years ago. In fact, the output for this internationally acclaimed artist, actor, performer, and singer-songwriter has been impressive: In addition to innumerable musical performances, there are two fine albums, a spunky and poignant memoir about growing up as a trans kid in suburban 1970s Maryland, and a recent turn as the Widow Begbick (singing original songs by Duncan Sheik) in a New York production of Bertolt Brecht's A Man's a Man.
A powerfully soulful and charismatic performer, Bond brings Love Is Crazy!, an evening of songs about love in all its aspects, to Feinstein's at the Nikko this weekend.
SF Bay Guardian In the late 1980s and early '90s, AIDS made SF a dark place, but it was also a time of exceptional artistic, intellectual, and political ferment. How did that affect the development of your career?
Justin Vivian Bond I majored in theater in college, but I couldn't really see a place for myself in mainstream theater. At my freshman evaluation they told me I had to butch up; I had to be able to pass as a straight man in order to make a living in the theater. Fortunately, I've been able to prove them wrong! But that was sort of a frustrating and unappealing way to live my life.
So I moved to San Francisco. I was going to probably go back to college and get a degree in art history and teach. But instead, I found Theatre Rhinoceros and queer performance and Queer Nation. It was a time when there was a tremendous amount of activism around HIV and AIDS. I worked at A Different Light bookstore, so I was exposed to the greatest queer minds of the day, brilliant writers and artists that would come in there. It was also, looking back now, the golden age of queer publishing. It was when Mike Warner published Fear of a Queer Planet. It was an intellectual and creative surge for queer people. Rick Jacobsen was still alive, and he did the Kiki Gallery [1993–1995]. I worked with him on a show that was written by Christian Huygen called Waiting for Godet, which appropriated Waiting for Godot and made it about two drag queens. It was so much fun, and really exciting. And I was in Hidden: A Gender with Kate Bornstein at Theater Rhinoceros. We toured that around the country — that was my New York stage debut.