“Johnny Darlin:” A Skillful Portrait of Coming Out

By Joseph Myers, Staff Writer

Coming out of the closet is a shared experience by members of the LGBTQ+ community. Thanks to our heteronormative culture, coming out is probably at best a nerve-wracking and at worst, incredibly dangerous. “Johnny Darlin: Out of the Closet” is a multimedia cabaret performance centered around the experience of coming out in young LGBTQ+ individuals. It takes audiences on the journey of questioning, pain, lack of acceptance, euphoria and self-acceptance.

It’s difficult to label “Johnny Darlin: Out of the Closet” past simply saying “cabaret,” which isn’t even fully indicative of everything that the show encompasses. It features emotional ballads and pop tunes sung by Johnny Darlin (Michael Doshier) himself, audio spoken-word testimonials, relatively abstract video projections, movement and dance pieces (performed by dancers Quenton Stuckey and Alberte Nilausen) and a colorful lighting design (by Joanna Emmott). While each part is very impressive in its own right, it unfortunately does not mesh together as seamlessly as it could. Several components of the show are usually going on at once, making for a confusing and distracting spectacle — each piece of the puzzle is so interesting to watch that it is hard to know where to look. I found myself honing in on one part of the piece at a time and missing the rest of it. This also can be attributed to the mesmerizing nature of Quenton Stuckey’s impeccable voguing skills. Despite the distraction, however, each element of performance on its own holds powerful emotional resonance.

The energy level of the performance fluctuated scene by scene. For example, the performance of the song “~MaGiCaL! ;)~” felt a bit depleted. It seemed that the tone of the song was a bit ironic, but it read as lacking presence or energy. Conversely, the song that immediately precedes it, “Permanent Marker,” was rich with passion and emotion and felt incredibly genuine, raw and honest. The moment in the performance that was the most impactful and memorable was the performance of the song “Olly Alexander,” where Darlin emerges from backstage adorned in a white wedding dress and sings about his first male celebrity crush, singer and actor Olly Alexander. Darlin tossing and crumpling the wedding dress was a lasting image that acutely expressed his anguish clearer that words ever could.   

While “Johnny Darlin: Out of the Closet” was not consistent in energy level, it ebbs and flows with the content of the show. It makes sense in the entire scheme of the show; like any experience, the journey of coming out has its high points and its low points. The experience that Darlin takes his audience on is an honest, well-rounded experience. He has a charming quality that makes it his experience relatable and easy to connect with. Despite some bumps, this show successfully tells a story of both an individual and the LGBTQ+ community as a whole.

“Johnny Darlin: Out of the Closet” ran as part of the 2016 New York International Fringe Festival.

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