Sound scary? And intriguing? It should. While "crissXcross" is more comic and camp (a bar pickup between a queen and a king; a fake boob popped during shooting, says Rubin), "Hitler" is uncomfortably mesmerizing, pounding taboo after taboo into a wicked whole. The malleability of gender is fascinating: where O'Neill's kings offer a new (or sometimes almost traditional) form of masculinity, Rubin's bare-breasted Nazi king is something like nega-feminine, metamorphosed by careful context out of the constraints of biology and society.
For an instant, it's gender vertigo—a primally unsettling effect capping a piece that snaps from smirks to screams to breathless sexuality. (Note to Mom and Dad: yeah, I'm a pervert. Sorry you had to find out here.) Don't get all wanky over the swastika-waving: if it'll calm you down, Rubin's parents were Holocaust survivors, so hold the spit next time.
"Had [the spitters] asked me about it, they might have been a little more enlightened," she says. "But it was a reaction, and any reaction is a good reaction."
It's that kind of vertigo (and that kind of pull-no-punches aesthetic) at the throbbing heart of "Drag" that keeps the dynamism of the drag king intact: Rubin, O'Neill and Zimmerman's subjects all have a certain energy, but the kings have something like an outlaw streak (appropriate that O'Neill shot a Harley-straddling cowboy). Maybe it's because they're performing and existing on the frontier: it's unexplored territory, something sleek and strong and still growing. And that's why it works, says Rubin.
"If you take a woman that beautiful and put her out there, you give her power with just her form and figure; it strikes people, to look and pay attention," she says. "But make her into a man, and it's totally different in how it works. You're still giving her power but in a completely different way."
"Drag" at Coffeehaven Coffeehouse & Art Gallery, 1708 E. Broadway, Long Beach, (562) 437-3785. Call for hours. Through June 23. Free.