Review: Old Queen


There couldn’t be a more perfect show for my first review at than Old Queen.  In this moving, often hilarious performance art piece, Penny Arcade laments that today’s young queers (and queens) have more information at their fingertips than ever, but what they lack, she speculates, is context. Providing that larger picture, when she was growing up, was what the old queens did best.

Arcade, at 59, has realized that she is—in spite of her gender and orientation—an “old queen,” but is finding it hard to pass the context she now understands to the new generation. In my reviews (although I am nearly twenty years younger than Penny) I will strive to provide both timely information, and my sense of the larger context.

But enough about me! As a teenager in the early 60s, Arcade knocked around in the gay bars and gay coffee shops in Hartford, Connecticut, Providence, Rhode Island, Boston, and Provincetown and finally, at just past 16, washed up on the shores of Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side—this is the story she tells in Old Queen.

In telling that story, she also speaks to the “socialite” part of Gay Socialites, lamenting that fabulous wit is not treasured as much as it used to be. She realizes that this fabulousness came out of a bad situation—that is, when she was young, to be out and queer required nearly unbelievable courage, resilience, determination and intelligence. Plus, queers’ outsider status of the time encouraged the development of unique, insightful world views. With all that, how could you help but be fabulous?

Today, even the most boring, suburban people can come out without feeling their very lives are threatened. Great in a way, but it also means a glut of dull, mediocre, bourgeois souls in the gay scene.

This is required viewing for gays of all ages. I’ll let Arcade herself have the last word: “The old queens knew everything I wanted to know and for them conversation was more than an art, it was the existential nectar that gave form to the power of the word. The old queens knew everything about life and travel, the human condition, about the world—this one and others—and I craved their company. They tolerated neither banality nor mediocrity, and they possessed a fierce and unapologetic intelligence and wit. Just sitting at a table of old queens in a dark bar or fluorescent coffee shop lifted your IQ twenty points!”

Originally reviewed for

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