If you are familiar with Company XIV, you may be surprised (and humored) to find the company performing Paris in the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church -- you may even feel you’re in the wrong place. Inside, however, is the Irondale Theater, an old, character-heavy space with loads of charm, glorious windows, and 28 foot-tall ceilings. With Austin McCormick’s team occupying the space, you can be sure to find chandelier lighting, velvet love seats, gorgeous people everywhere, and lots of champagne! Cast members are standing around before the show in costume, smiling, and escorting guests to their seats. My friend and I sat in our own little couch and clinked our champagne flutes, wide-eyed and already eager for what was to come. My guest leaned over as the lights dimmed, saying, “I’m not familiar with this story.” I whispered back, “I don’t think it matters.”
The Judgement of Paris is a Greek myth easily told in a couple of brief paragraphs, sentences even. Paris, a shepherd, is tasked by Zeus to select the fairest of three goddesses of Olympus for the reward of a golden apple. Paris chooses the goddess of love who in turn grants him the gift of Helen, which is eventually understood as an abduction and leads to the Trojan War. It’s a simple match, here turned into a dazzling and feat-filled competition where everyone is going for the gold! Even the ensemble, with crafty and clever sideshow acts, e.g. an intriguing tuba solo, is vying for Paris’ (and ultimately the audience’s) attention.
Paris opens with a signature can-can number and introduction to the evening’s emcee, Zeus (Charlotte Bydwell). The Greek god is not your iconic image of strength and rule, hurling thunderbolts from the clouds. Instead, he is a mischievous and fallible Frenchman who at times speaks French, but mainly tells the story in “the language of Shakespeare and RuPaul.” Caught guzzling booze, peeking underneath skirts, and even receiving a (fake) blow job, Zeus leads us on a two hour-long escapade, within which his antics and sarcastic quips add a comedic flair: “We are born naked...the rest is all drag.”
The audience with Paris easily falls in love with each character along the way. But, as Zeus warns, “best not to give away the prize before you’ve seen all the contestants.” And it’s true. First, Athena (Marcy Richardson) wows us with her strength and poise. She’s a soprano singing through an intricate pole dance — literally upside down at times and still singing. Next is Juno, a dominatrix-type, played by the very tall and muscular Randall Scotting. A countertenor singing Handel further entices us with a rendition of Leonard Cohen’s "I’m Your Man," and then staggers us by stripping naked -- covered only by the ensemble’s feathered fans. It is Storm Marrero as Venus who finally steals the show with her outstanding vocal performance of Bjork’s "All is Full of Love." She is breathtaking in a red sequined dress, but as the ensemble paws at her, they strip her down to an even more stunning costume underneath. With buzzed hair and a glittered scalp, bedazzled pasties and gorgeous lighting, she shines. At the moment you can’t imagine any more beauty, glitter rains on her from above. Indeed, she is selected as the fairest goddess.
You really don’t need to be that familiar with the mythological tale, because Paris is about the intimacy, extravagance, opulence, skillfulness, and playful humor that is so specific to this company; it starts when you enter the venue and ends sometime after the show is over and you’ve already exited -- like a piece of glitter stuck to your cheek, it stays with you.