GALAS’ BRAINCHILD TO TAKE A BOW TONIGHT
Call him a Renaissance man.
Because he has already enjoyed and retired from a career as a bi-continental performer.
Because he is a prize-winning playwright with works in production in Los Angles and San Francisco.
Because he has a novel making the rounds of publishers.
And because he is a successful businessman, well on the way to making a modest--perhaps immodest--fortune.
Philip-Dimitri Galas, in his peculiar versatility, is very much a man of our time and of our town.
If there is a quality of another time that he represents it is probably Greek antiquity, when satyrs, half-man and half-goat, inspired the antic ribaldry of the comic theater.
Galas, born 31 years ago, is a native of San Diego. His parents, both highly respected educators, having retired from their own careers, now help their son in his card manufacturing career. His sister, Diamanda, an avant-garde singer, has concertized internationally and recorded several albums. Galas thrived in a culturally rich home environment. He graduated from the University of California at San Diego with a degree in English literature in 2 1/2 years.
Galas, a natural exhibitionist who had been performing since age 14, at age 18 began a three-year sojourn in Europe, initially to study Shakespeare. With a London stage company he did “everything from wearing a gorilla suit to tap dancing, stilt walking and playing the piano.” Later, in Paris, he studied with famed pantomimist Etienne Decroux. A special influence in Galas’ subsequent works was the Folies Bergeres, of which he has commented admiringly, “I especially like its ultra-fast tempo. Before something is off, the next thing is on.”
Back in San Diego, Galas developed a new kind of theater he dubbed “Avant Vaudeville,” which he claims is the sole indigenous performance style to originate in his hometown and which will be showcased tonight at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art. He created it in opposition to conventional “performance art,” which he views as amateurish, self-indulgent and, worst of all, boring.
Where visual artists developed performance in the 1960s and 1970s out of “happenings” and “body sculpture,” among other sources, Galas developed Avant Vaudeville out of theatrical and literary traditions, including cabaret entertainment, with minimal props and costumes. “What I hope to create,” he has said, “is theater with European form and American content.”
Galas’ Avant Vaudeville performances are essentially monologues or recited texts delivered at a pace so unflaggingly rapid and with a pitch so hysterically intense that the audience is as much exhausted from concentrating on the content as it is dazzled by the delivery. Galas wants audiences to be “staggered” by the experiences he creates for them, but he also wants them to be entertained. The first commandment of Avant Vaudeville, he has said, is “Thou shalt not bore.”
Galas’ most well-known creation, Mona Rogers, had its debut in San Francisco in 1981. Since 1983 Helen Shumaker has played the role in a series of blackout vignettes, entitled “Mona Rogers in Person.” The piece played to an enthusiastic audience last year at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art. Mona lives alone, chain smokes, survives on TV dinners and drinks a lot. She also rants--brilliantly--about her past, present and future. She negates everything--art, politics, lovers and herself. Her ambition is to destroy her personality, to become one-dimensional. She brays, “I didn’t want to be a woman. I want to be a photograph.” Shumaker is playing the role for a long run in San Francisco’s Climate Gallery.
Another Galas’ work, “Performance Hell,” will soon warm up the folks in San Francisco, The City known for its cold summers.
It’s not necessary for San Diegans to travel north to see an example of Galas’ work, however.
The La Jolla Museum is presenting Galas’ solo play, “Baby Redboots’ Revenge,” with Sean Sullivan tonight at 8 p.m. in Sherwood Auditorium as part of its “Viva Vaudeville” series.
The piece, which was wildly successful in Los Angeles during a recent long run, is a bitter monologue by Baby 4-Strings, formerly a child star who played the bass fiddle and sang until at age 25 his voice changed and he was cast aside, terminally banished to playing, he says, “Polka till you puke!”
In 1984 Galas (as writer) and Sullivan and Shumaker (as actors) were Drama-Logue award winners for “Performance Hell” and last year Galas and Sullivan were both Drama-Logue and L.A. Weekly award winners for “Baby Redboots’ Revenge.”
The prestige of awards is nice, but it does not sustain life.
The resourceful Galas, broke in San Francisco in 1979, developed a line of post cards and greeting cards based on trashy 1940s paperback novels. Later he added his own sleazy inventions. Now he employs a talented designer, James Nocito, for his Galas Exoticards. Two of the line’s tamer titles are “High Society Hooker” by Mary Greene Bax and “Soap Opera Junkie” by Anita Mann.
Galas has fun while prospering. He’s content to stay in San Diego. The city gives him a perspective he needs for his creativity in art and in business and it allows him to work hard.