By Donalevan Maines
Elizabeth Collins begins her performance piece Raised by Gays and Turned Out OK! with a photo of her as a 1980s baby, in a two-piece swimsuit, projected on a big screen. “Believe it or not,” she says, “that is a picture of me.”
Hey, Elizabeth? I believe that’s you. It’s the rest of your story that’s far more bizarre!
That is, if I wasn’t used to meeting gals from Nashville, Tennessee, whose career as a standup comedienne takes them to Paris, France, where they regale ex-patriates with tales from back home.
“I know what your dad did,” whispers her cousin Olivia when Collins arrives in Pasadena, Texas, after a cross-country kidnapping in which she and her brother and their mother escaped from South Carolina. “I was like, ‘Wow,’” says Collins. Did her father murder someone? Was he in the Mafia? All of those toys he bought her: did he steal them? You mean he really isn’t Santa Claus??
These questions and more will be answered when Collins performs Sept. 24 and 25 in Houston Fringe Festival festivities at Super Happy Fun Land at 3801 Polk St.
“I can’t wait to bring this show to Houston,” Collins says in a telephone interview from her home in Los Angeles. “Even though I traveled a lot when I was younger, Houston is where I was the most, and it is where a lot of my story happened.”
From this point on, I tread lightly: it’s only fair that Collins gets to tell her own story. Besides, I’ve only chatted with her by phone and read the “technical draft” of her script, just enough to cue the guy who will be changing the slides as she unveils her life story, which, according to the show’s press release, “puts a unique twist on the solo-show genre as she describes with her own brand of humor, total honesty, and deep passion and compassion her experience of growing up with two gay men in Texas.
She talks about both embracing and later questioning her father’s choices as she finds religion, the difficulties and danger of the lifestyle in a conservative state, their growth together to a place of acceptance and love, and all the hysterical stories that happened along the way.
The script that I read, Collins explains, “is a little wonky, but I think it should be clear enough. I do stray from the script in the show because of the experience of having it memorized. Things are different out loud than on paper. But for the most part, the story is all there.”
A modus operandi of her humor and her presentation is to finish a line with the projection of the next slide. For example, Collins might say that she always thought her father “was secretly” (a slide appears, picturing him in gift-giving mode) “Santa Claus.”
“I have a lot of hilarious pictures,” she says.
Which I believe. I also believe the baby-in-a-swimsuit photo is among the more tame ones. I say that because, as her show builds to a crescendo, there are times an audience might not know whether to shit or go blind.
Before revealing her family’s foibles to the world, Collins says, “I thought that by presenting what was not a pretty picture of a perfect family, I might not be helping the gay rights movement.”
However, she decided that honesty would be the best policy. “I’ve been sharing these stories as part of my routine for the past five years and knew that I wanted to make a show out of them,” says Collins. “There’s such an interesting perspective that comes from experiencing what I did, and I wanted to share it. This isn’t the most theatrical of shows. It’s really about the stories—they’re the entertainment. What I’m trying to give are powerful stories that will also make you laugh.”
She adds, “It turns out that pretty much everybody comes from a family that is crazy and has flaws.”
Perhaps that is true of a hardened L.A. theater critic who saw Collins premiere the show in June at the Hollywood Fringe Festival and reported, “I laughed pretty much continuously.”
As much as I would like to tattle on what else Collins talks about in the show, I will just say that it seems to be true that, after living several teenage years with her father and his gay partner, Collins emerged better than okay.
She currently lives with her husband, Keith Foglesong, a writer on the hit crime-procedural comedy-drama Bones, which is about to enter its 11th season on FOX-TV.
What became of her parents and his partner? Wild horses couldn’t drag that out of me. But it’s kinda bizarre, and she tells it in the show.
What: Raised by Gays and Turned Out OK!
When: Thursday, Sept. 24 at 7:30 p.m., and Friday, Sept. 25 at 10:30 p.m.
Where: Super Happy Fun Land, 3801 Polk St., Houston
Tickets: $10 (general admission)
Details: www.houstonfringesfestival.org and www.elizabethcollins.com
Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.