Arts & Culture
David Crabb dishes queer Saytown goth to the rest of the world
Published: June 27, 2012
Storytelling comes naturally to playwright and San Antonio native David Crabb.
In his solo show Bad Kid — that captivated audiences this year off-off-Broadway, and earned an elusive New York Times Critics' Pick — he relates that he was a generally a well-behaved boy. "I was fairly polite and soft-spoken, and a little subdued." Until he saw a motley crew of kids crossing the street.
"They're all wearing layers and layers of black clothes and heavy eyeliner and crazy hairstyles. If you've never seen goths in hot weather, there's really nothing sadder. 'Well, I'll be,' his father says. 'They look like superheroes going to a funeral.' They were the most amazing things I'd ever seen. I knew in my heart that I wanted to be one of them. And soon … very soon, I would make my dream come true."
In 90 minutes, Crabb tells the powerful story of his coming out and joining a band of outsiders for whom drugs, makeup, and Erasure took a front row seat through high school. It is a story of Texas teens who enjoy malls, sex toys, dog collars, midnight shows of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the Smiths in no particular order. Call it Fast Times at Goth High.
On stage, Crabb, who plays all the characters in this tragicomedy, channels the best and worst in us all. And with his lilting Texas twang, and his slight figure that apes a Joel Grey on acid, it isn't hard to identify in him our own misadventures at trying to be cool at 16.
His stories about Roxanne, his bitchy-yet-tender fag hag friend, are priceless. Describing Crabb, she explains: "Oh, him? I love that queer-bait. So don't talk shit about him. That's my job. You know he ain't even seen a dick yet? The pope's had more cock than David. Actually, that's probably true, bitch! He's a fuckin' wallflower."
As are the tender moments when he falls head over heels for Zach, a skinhead, due to his perception of the group as "fascists and racists with a history of hate."
Zach quickly sets him straight. "Dude. Hold up. I'm not a bigot. Come on man. I'm a SHARP- A skinhead against racial prejudice. We take the aesthetic of the enemy and subvert it."
Crabb's generation didn't grow up with the self-loathing homosexuals in Boys in the Band, or witness the first wave of AIDS or even the gay civil rights protests. His own coming out wasn't tinged with self-doubt or joining the lockstep clones that inhabit many gay ghettos.
Instead, he finds himself among a group of outsiders, finding that laughing at our little foibles is often more healthy than ranting. Bad Kid is an endearing valentine to San Antonio. As a piece of theater art, it is refreshing to see and hear Crabb relate his life story in such precise and loving terms.
Today, Crabb lives in Brooklyn with his partner, an actor and pianist. He teaches a class on storytelling and is working on a memoir based on his play.
I ask him what was the motivation that inspired him to turn to stagecraft. He cites HBO's 1985 broadcast of Whoopi Goldberg's first Broadway show — where she mixed both sad stories and comedy.
"Something clicked in my head, that it doesn't have to be funny. It can trick you with laughter. You embrace an audience and then punch them in the face." He also cited John Leguizamo, Ron Nash, Gilbert and George, and David Sedaris as important touchstones.
Crabb still has high hopes to bring his show home to San Antonio. I ask if he'd invite his parents. He says not only his parents but also the friends that people his show. "Of course, my father could finally come, bless his soul. I would just get him a handful of pills and a bottle of whiskey to calm his nerves."
David Crabb is a hometown hero, but more than that, a playwright who tells some of our true stories to the rest of the world. •