Divine Promiscue (1992)

Story, choreography, direction and set design by John Kelly
Music by Adolphe Adam, George Enescu, Francesco Cilea, Joni Mitchell, Henry Purcell, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, Kurt Weill
Film sequences by Anthony Chase
Lighting design by Stan Pressner
Recorded piano accompaniment by Fernando Torm-Toha
Produced by the Serious Fun! Festival and Liz Dunn for John Kelly Performance
Premiere: Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York, July 23, 1992


Divine Promiscue is somewhat of a spectacle, but a minimal spectacle––a solo work that is a meditation/lamentation on the public and personal, art and politics, the balance between work, love and survival. The story is fairly simple: an artist, named Randy, works in his studio. He ventures into the night in search of sexual gratification and human contact. Frustrated by an unrewarding one-night stand, he returns home, alone and despondent. His fears spill from his dreams into his waking life when he wakes to find a huge pile of dirt, a “grave” symbol of his mortality, which triggers a furious, spasmodic dance, a masculine rendition of the mad scene from the ballet Giselle. With no one or nothing to blame, he momentarily considers slashing his wrists with a broken beer bottle, then abandons the idea. Disgusted and hurt, he begins to look inside himself and voices his complaint to the gods: Why me?

Divine Promiscue is one of the first pieces where I spoke on stage. In the middle of the mad scene, Randy sits at a table and starts listing therapies he could take: “…AZT…DDI…DDT…”. He turns his head in the other direction and considers: “Acupuncture, meditation, Composition A, Chinese herbs”. I’ve always been timid about speaking, so it was a bit of a big deal for me. Also, there’s so much yakking out there; everyone’s always doing monologues. I’d much rather sing, allowing my characters to voice their inner yearnings through song. One of the hallmarks of my works is that I appropriate different styles of music and attempt to make them work together. It’s like making opera out of found objects. In this work, we hear the artist’s voice again on tape as he writes in his journal, trying to make sense of the constant and unavoidable presence of his mortality: “…the conscious, the unconscious … reality spilling into fiction … I am waging war … looking for a recognizable form with surprising content: a fish bowl filled with concrete … an eyelash on Buddha’s cheek, an absurdity to manifest … a kink in the ointment. I long to lose control, but I crave to give form.” In the process of writing, Randy spills a pot of ink, which, it turns out, is white. He regards this and, in a moment of playful absurdity, begins to wipe the ink over his face and neck. He takes this idea further and decides to become that angel, the Winged Victory. As the white fabric of his shroud billows in the wind, he stands center stage and sings, solid, resolved to make music while waging victory.

© John Kelly 2019/2001

  • Photo by Timothy Greenfield Sanders