'Lypsinka!' Uniqueness Is Beyond Words

To describe John Epperson's "Lypsinka! As I Lay Lip-Synching" as a drag act muddles the issue. Undoubtedly, Epperson is one of the finest drag artists you will ever see: Wasp-waisted and glamorously thin, he moves with the fluttering fluidity of a great mime. But his revue goes beyond mere camp into the realm of social commentary, the scathing kind.

Epperson's feminine persona Lypsinka, whose name is often hyperbolically and rightfully preceded by the phrase "The Fabulous," has performed in sold-out runs on both coasts, earning two Drama Desk nominations in New York for most unique theatrical experience.

Truly, theatrical experiences don't get much more unique. In the course of little more than an hour at Highways in Santa Monica, the glittering, glamorously bewigged Lypsinka mouths her way through a dizzying melange of material culled from live nightclub performances, classic films and various media that range from Ethel Merman's nightclub debut to Sally Field's Oscar acceptance speech.

In addition to the many musical offerings, there are hysterical dames aplenty, awash in melodrama, many from vintage films noir. In fact, Dana Peter Porras' lighting design, an integral part of the show, comes complete with noir-ish Venetian blind shadows on the wall, a particularly witty note.

Some selections are instantly recognizable, others arcane. All point up just how checkered a woman's lot in contemporary society really is. In one period segment, an obnoxious charm maven lectures on chic: "If you feel beautiful, you will enjoy art more." Forget aesthetics. For women, appearance is all.

From a sociological standpoint, this stuff is fascinating. From a performance perspective, Lypsinka is simply amazing. Without Epperson's flair and precision and Kevin Malony's capable direction, the show could have become a tedious, one-line joke. As it is, it's art. Go. You'll feel beautiful.

* "Lypsinka! As I Lay Lip-Synching," Highways, 1651 18th St . , Santa Monica. Wednesdays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Ends Jan . 29. $15-$18. (213) 660-8587. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.

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