(Tim Murphy’s interview appeared in The New York Times, 10/31.)     

In 1967, the same year that the playwright Tennessee Williams found himself in the depths of substance abuse, depression and critical failure, a short, busty, outspoken 17-year-old named Susana Ventura completed her tenure in reform school and ran away from working-class New Britain, Conn. She moved to downtown Manhattan, was sheltered by drag queens and fell under the tutelage of gay artists including Andy Warhol; the filmmaker and performance artist Jack Smith; and John Vaccaro, founder of the avant-garde Play-House of the Ridiculous theater group. 
Williams endured several more years of personal and professional anguish before he died at 71 in 1983. Ms. Ventura, taking a note from her drag mentors, quickly renamed herself Penny Arcade and by the 1990s had become a prominent performance artist downtown, presenting shows that, souped up by a troupe of burlesque dancers, mixed her vivid personal biography with passionate and sarcastic monologues about the AIDS epidemic, the women’s and gay rights movements, and, above all else, her own right to flaunt her body and her mind.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *