Finding the Devil Hole

Performance artist John Fleck explores Orange County

John fleck doesn't have much reason to come to Orange County. "I have no friends here, really, and I don't like to shop, so why bother?" he asked.

Spoken like a tourist. But Fleck—a performance artist, actor, writer and one of Jesse Helms' least-favorite people—is playing multiple roles in On the Jump, a new play at South Coast Repertory, so he's been hanging out in OC quite a bit lately. It's only natural he would familiarize himself with the county. So he recently donned a bright-orange jump suit in order to get a read on the county by making a short film about it.

The film was his contribution to a benefit at Highways, the Santa Monica performance-art space. Fleck decided to explore two of the county's most hallowed sites and ask people what they think Orange County is all about. While not a particularly illuminating experience, it was an interesting one: "At South Coast Plaza, everyone was, of course, shopping and had that glazed-over look in their eyes, and all they could say about what Orange County meant to them was that everything was . . . 'nice,'" he said. "I had to get out of there."

So he went across the San Diego Freeway to the Trinity Broadcasting Network. "From the freeway, it looks like a wedding cake, but inside, it's all gilded marble with these great statues of Michael sitting on the devil," Fleck said. "Here I am dressed in this ridiculous bright-orange jump suit with a millennium cap. And we met Jan Crouch, and they took us to her studio and let us roam around with the camera. We came home, and I was thumbing through the Weekly and saw a phone-sex ad for hot, wild, nasty Orange County babes. So I thought it'd be fun to call the number and ask what makes Orange County babes wilder and nastier. I got ahold of Sarah, a true artist. She said it was all the repressed Republican stuff that makes you want to lash out. In the middle of her sex fantasy, which she was doing by rote, I asked her if she knew Jan Crouch. She went into this tirade and wound up telling me she was on all fours, telling me to fuck her devil hole."

Fleck is the type of artist any halfway-sane mother would tell her children not to hang out with. Which makes it even odder that he's in Orange County for the monthlong run of On the Jump, a modern-day fairy tale about as edgy as a toothpaste commercial. It's romantic, sweet and very nice, adjectives that don't immediately spring to mind when thinking of Fleck's performance art. There, according to one reviewer, he is "excessive, visceral, guttural, epiglottal, breast-obsessed, near-scatological and manic." His last solo show, Dirt, found Fleck pawing through an onstage pile of dirt and ripping through endless layers of underwear. And that was just about his tamest show to date; others have prompted death threats from neo-Nazis and hate mail from across the country.

Much of that venom stemmed from his inclusion as one of the four artists denied grants by the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) in 1990 on the grounds that their work was obscene; Orange County native Tim Miller and New York-based performance artists Karen Finley and Holly Hughes rounded out the notorious NEA Four.

Fleck's appearance on an Orange County stage in a quite non-Fleckian play may seem unusual, but he's no stranger to the relatively straight life of film and TV. He has always supported his performance art with his work in those media. His résumé includes everything from Waterworld to a regular stint on Murder One.

That versatility is on display in On the Jump, in which Fleck plays multiple roles and has to change costumes four times in the first 10 pages. For most actors, that would be a nightmare. For Fleck, it's something he's accustomed to. He co-starred in Charles Ludlam's hugely successful, flamboyant send-up of horror movies and gothic fiction, The Mystery of Irma Vep, in Los Angeles last year. The two-character play is built around some of the quickest changes in theatrical history, a feat that prompted SCR to ask Fleck if he would be interested in On the Jump. He took the job (an easy decision: he's getting the most money he has ever received for a theater gig).

And he's slowly realizing that Orange County really isn't all shopping malls and Republicans. In fact, some of his favorite things about the county are some of our favorite things: "I do like that Lab anti-mall; the Gypsy Den was great," he noted. "There seem to be all these small pockets of subversion and artistic activity." He'll find out soon, of course, that those aren't "pockets"; that's Orange County.

 
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