Somewhere in Would You Like Guys With That? A McTolerant One-Man Show, one of queer performance artist John Michael's personas admits that "in order to get laughs I tell stories to make me look cool."
So, does he want people to like him because he's funny or because he has an interesting way of expressing himself, which some might deem "cool"? A little of both, maybe. That is, if he really cares whether you like him.
There's a mix of hubris and self-deprecation in the aforementioned statement that is a recurring idea in the 70-minute piece, which was performed this week in a lecture hall/auditorium in the Jindal School of Management at the University of Texas at Dallas (funded from a grant by the Galerstein Women's Center at UTD).
It's part of the enigma that is John Michael. He grew up in Dallas, attended the Jesuit College Preparatory School and then Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, and has returned home to hone his craft as a solo performer. That enigma is something he will continue to explore as he finds new work to create and grows as an artist.
He's well on his way. Directed by Danielle Georgiou, Would You Like Guys With That? is surprising, funny, vulgar, honest, shocking, moving, unpredictable and frequently clever. It's self-referential, but not annoyingly so. That's a feat considering this show is about his experience of working at the Golden Arches in an attempt to learn real-world lessons.
"She thinks I'm at McDonald's because I need to make ends meet," he says in the show, about a woman he comes to know. "But it's because I'm artistically deprived."
Any hapless visitor who may have wondered in during the show might substitute "depraved" for "deprived." In the tradition of queer performance artists like Tim Miller and Holly Hughes, of the NEA Four, John Michael speaks frankly—and often pairs that with pantomime—of sexual topics, giving new meaning to the term "McJob." It's enough to make those who love to bandy about the word "decency" while perched on a self-imposed moral high ground squirm.
The show's not for them, but it is for anyone who has a sense of humor, an open mind and appreciates nontraditional storytelling and charismatic performance.
John Michael takes us on a journey from that private high school (when he thought he was still straight, with some typical school-boy thoughts about a certain teacher he calls Mrs. Tuts) to his time at Oklahoma State University, where he took the McDonald's job to try to understand social injustice, among other things. During that time he meets "no-change Dave" and, at a college party, "Radiohead girl."
Not content just to be anyone's sassy gay friend or a typical "twink," he learns that appreciating the differences in people begins with himself.
John Michael loves paradoxical conclusions and speaks narrative sentences with a peculiar, child-like cadence. And then he tumbles into another physical storytelling thread with abandon. It often leaves us breathless, mesmerized and laughing loudly.
Dallas has seen many one-person plays over the years (often at WaterTower Theatre's Out of the Loop Fringe Festival), but I can't think of any local solo performance artist in this vein since Dalton James in the 1990s and early 2000s. Fred Curchack, who has mostly been collaborating with other artists in recent years, also has a history of solo shows.
John Michael's is very different, and as solo performance, it should be. We need more of this work. Support it, and it will happen.
John Michael will perform excerpts from Would You Like Guys With That? on March 24 at the Cathedral of Hope, Dallas; and then his next solo show, A-Gays: Stillwater, Oklahoma, will run March 30-April 14 at Nouveau 47 Theatre.