Joel Grey clones they are not. But musical cabaret artists Curtis York and Robert Daniels, the two young iconoclasts known as Les Mormons, do share a certain flamboyance with the Kit Kat Club's androgynous emcee.
Mixing song, dance and theater in a variety act rife with black humor, Les Mormons call attention to the contradictions facing gays today. Like Grey's host in Weimar Germany, Les Mormons have fun in the midst of an urgent situation, employing show-biz strategies to mitigate against prejudice.
They'll perform "Meet the Mormons" as part of Highways' "Ecce Lesbo, Ecce Homo" festival celebrating Gay Pride Month today and next Monday and June 19.
"Meet the Mormons" is largely autobiographical. York, 26, was a Navy brat raised "all over the West Coast until my sister smoked pot and (my parents) decided it was time to go home to Utah." In college there, he met performance artist Rachel Rosenthal and moved to Los Angeles to study with her.
Twenty-year-old Daniels was born the towheaded child of Mormon American Indian parents. "I always stuck out and, when I hit 14, all hell broke loose," he recalls. "I was a rebellious brat--which led me to exploring the arts."
After getting involved with a nightclub in Salt Lake City that had lip-sync shows on the weekends and a stint with a late night TV dance show, Daniels moved to L.A.
York has been excommunicated from the Mormon Church; Daniels just "dropped out." They met a year ago and, according to York, "freaked out at how funny we were and how much of a sensibility we shared."
They prefer to remain ambiguous about the nature of their offstage relationship, saying only that they're "nameless incestuous lesbian twins."
A Church representative who declined to be identified said that the Church allows gay men to belong if they never act on their homosexuality, but that there's no official position on the performance work of Les Mormons.
The duo's work began when Daniels wanted to write a song for his father. York calls that song--"My Father's Glands"--"the seed of this performance."
And as silly as that title may be, there's also a serious side to Les Mormons. York performs a monologue about "three experiences (he) had with Mormonism in relation to (his) sexuality: one as a child, one as a teen-ager and one very recently."
"(In each case) I was the one who was victimized (and yet also) made to feel like the criminal," he explains with obvious pain at the memory. "I was told there was something wrong with me and I believed it."
"As in the case of rape when the woman is made to feel guilty, I never talked about it," York continues. "But the statistics for child molestation and teen suicide are very high in Utah. These things could be helped if people would talk, but they're in a state of denial."
Daniels, who says his association with York and their performance have made him more political, stresses the empowering aspects of cross-dressing, a tactic also used in feminist theater.
"\o7 Cross-dressing\f7 is the correct word, not \o7 drag\f7 ," he cautions, referring to the male and female roles both performers play in "Meet the Mormons." "\o7 Drag\f7 is someone trying to be a woman and it can be misogynistic.
"(We're) the opposite of that: supporting women, showing how they're suppressed, especially in Utah where their Moms have been taught to make sure they go to Home Ec.," says Daniels.
"Part of the power attributed to gay people in the time before Christianity was their ability to go back and forth between aggressive and submissive, male and female," York explains.
"I see gay men turning their backs or suppressing the feminine inside the gay community. It's not OK to be flamboyant, (and that's why) it's a very political thing to cross-dress."
"There's this movement in the gay community to want to be James Dean-macho-'50s again while straight men are learning about feminism from their girlfriends and wives," he continues. "But in a male-dominated society, one of the ways that feminism and the power of the feminine can infiltrate would be through gay men."
And proving that there's no place like home to begin changing the world, Les Mormons opened "Meet the Mormons" in Salt Lake City a couple of weeks ago in what they both agree was a "healing" experience.
"As performers we have a public voice and a responsibility," York asserts. "I wanted to go back (to Utah to perform) because performance is one of the few forums in which people are going to listen about being gay and about AIDS."
York also had more personal reasons. "(Utah) had become this horrible monster from which I had to escape and when I returned having developed a sense of myself and accomplishment, I found it wasn't the place, it was me," he offers. "It no longer has the power to do me harm."