When's the last time you heard a street-wise Latino drag/hustler name-drop British philosopher Alfred North Whitehead? Or learn the mythic secrets of ancient Japanese Samurai from a source more "Gilda Radner" than "Joseph Campbell" in spirit? Or witness archaic Sappho stride across a stage poetizing... with just a touch of Joey Heatherton in her gait?
The answer, my friends, is Jade Esteban Estrada's charming, ambitious - and yes - scholarly one-man show "ICONS: The Lesbian and Gay History of the World, Vol. 1", currently touring the United States.
Though I had only heard of him as a musical performer, Estrada appears perfectly at home on the theatrical, (and especially the comedic), stage. With a keen, coy and sometimes wicked wit, he skillfully blends gay silliness with academic erudition in a way that both entertains and educates.
Through original songs, dance, costumes and monologues, Estrada gleefully channels such famous characters as Sappho, Michelangelo, Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Rivera (of Stonewall Rebellion fame) and even Ellen DeGeneres. He lovingly takes on the roles of these historic "icons" and relishes speaking their great thoughts aloud.
Onstage, Estrada carries himself through his characters with a self-assured, flowing body language. Amusingly, he has the ability to come off as both innocent and naughty at the same time - with a kind of Barbara Eden-as-Jeanie demeanor. He delivers his icons' thoughts via beautiful smiles and loving eyes - so much so that when, late in the show, he arrives at the ultra-deadpan persona of Gertrude Stein - the change comes as a shock.
Here and there, to punctuate a poignant idea or to just make us laugh, he purposely steps out of character to briefly deliver a side-comment or wise-crack using his own sweet personality with great effect. As some of his icons lived hundreds, even thousands of years ago, Estrada is thus time-traveling at high-speed all over the stage.
ICONS emphasizes the universality of each gay/lesbian icon's contribution to the world; in that each icon's life & thoughts are of great value not not just to GLBT people, but to all people. Indeed, the message of Estrada's play may well be - all our lives and thoughts are of importance to all people. I particularly enjoyed the choice of quotes in ICONS. It managed to create more than a few "I never knew that about him/her" murmurs among the packed opening-night house during the evening.
In this day and age, it's heartening to see a young person so "into" the teaching, awareness and appreciation of the humanities and world history. While ICONS will surely succeed in its current tour of theatrical entertainment venues across the U.S., I hope Estrada also gives a thought to it's potential in colleges and schools as a valuable tool for educating students in both GLBT history and the humanities.
It is a show worthy of a grant.