Photography by John Painz
David Crabb has returned to New York City with his critically acclaimed solo show Bad Kid, about growing up gay and goth in the outskirts of San Antonio, Texas. With dexterous charm and humor, he quips: “If you’ve never seen goths in hot weather, there’s really nothing sadder.” He elaborates by saying that the temperatures in Texas’ semi-arid region were “so hot that their Manic Panic hair dye was literally dripping down their faces.” Seeing this spectacle from the passenger seat of his father’s pick-up truck, Crabb discovered a dream of his own: to be a goth kid.
Like other great Texas storytellers (think Jaston Williams of Greater Tuna fame), Crabb’s whimsy leaves the audience spellbound. We are drawn in by his tangible sincerity and honesty. He also captivates with his ability to vividly create characters. Coming of age in the quiet suburbs of Houston, I found Crabb’s coming out story and teenage misadventures to be instantly relatable. He and his supporting cast of characters won my heart over because I "knew" every single person he talked about.
San Antonio is a mere four-hour drive from Houston, and the personas he shares with the audience all reminded me of people I grew up with, played Magic: The Gathering with, and marched with in band. Crabb offers an authentic taste of Texas to audiences, and even if you’re not from the Lone Star State, these people and his heart will be both recognizable and touching because if nothing else they represent home. Truly, only the accents and locales will vary.
Dealing with his sexuality and recognizing that he is different from his peers, Crabb tells of being bullied at school. He finds safety and solace with the kids who hang out at Club FX, a San Antonio teen club, wear black, use office supplies as jewelry, and don lots of makeup. This ragtag group introduces him to a slew of influential peers. There’s Sylvia, a drug pushing camp queen who helps Crabb move from getting into teenage trouble to getting into adult trouble; Greg, a delightfully flamboyant friend turned roommate who teaches Crabb the facts of life with pickles and condoms; and Max, a SHARP (a skinhead against racial prejudice) who teaches Crabb what his heart is for. Along the way, we also meet Crabb’s concerned guidance counselor, beguiling albeit confused father, and worried mother.
Each character in Crabb’s show is personified with a unique accent, speech pattern, centered with evocative emotions, and made memorable through his loving mockery of them. With good nature and good humor, he applies the same treatment to his teenage self, expertly showcasing where every person in the play both fails and triumphs. He keenly takes the audience behind the veil of the vampire-like makeup, the dark clothing, the discomforting regalia, and the hardened exteriors to showcase the timid, shy, caring, and bruised person lurking behind the werido. The heart behind the fangs, if you will.
Bad Kid reminds us what it means to grow up and to accept ourselves for who we really are. Certainly Crabb’s sexuality as a young homosexual in conservative Texas shapes his narrative and is a part of who he is today, but he never once lets his sexuality define him. Instead, his empathy does. While he makes mistakes along the way (and that’s life), he reminds us that “you’re only as bad a kid as the adult you turn out to be.”
Bad Kid continues through Aug. 1 at AxisCompany.org, NYC.