Coco Peru is feeling the tension these days and she’s not afraid to talk about it in her latest solo show; a show that nearly caused the drag legend to have a breakdown during its development.
“We are living in some pretty tense times right now,” Peru tells Vanguard. “I was writing it during the presidential election process and everyone was so on edge. I’m addressing things that make me tense and I find some resolution… some peace… and hopefully the audience does too.”
Peru (aka Clinton Luepp) is bringing The Taming of the Tension to the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Renberg Theatre for four performances over two weekends in September.
She promises her trademark mix of hilarious and heartfelt stories plus a few songs in a show directed by longtime collaborator Michael Schiralli.
“This was difficult for me to write,” Peru admits. “This show almost drove me to a nervous breakdown. Writing and performing shows, as you get older, your brain works differently.
I found myself overwhelmed. I talk about getting older and some of the struggles and I talk about the fact that I’ll be retiring in the not-too-distant future. My husband and I are at the stage where that’s a conversation we are starting to have.”
She adds: “Some of this younger generation say things like “Next time!” about coming to see my show. I address that there is no next time. There’s now.”
But world events and aging aren’t the only things Peru addresses in the new show which is the seventh one she has performed at the Renberg.
“I address trans people and drag queens not getting along and how bizarre that is for me as a drag queen who always felt very connected to my trans friends,” Peru says. “I address that it’s a hot button issue but I address it in a way that I hope enlightens people and makes people understand where I’m coming from. Coco is not a divider, she’s always trying to unite.”
It was more than 20 years ago that Miss Coco Peru became a favorite in the cabaret world of New York City with her first show Miss Coco Peru in My Goddam Cabaret.
That was followed by roles in the films Trick, Girls Will Be Girls, Straight-Jacket and To Wong Fu, Thanks For Everything Julie Newmar. There have also been numerous television guest spots and two stand-up comedy specials on LOGO.
Renberg is Special Place
Peru has already performed The Taming of the Tension in several cities including Seattle and San Diego. But performing at the Renberg Theatre has special significance.
“Back when I first moved out here (to Los Angeles) I went through a dark depression,” Peru recalls. “I had no idea I was depressed. My husband addressed it. I was like, “What are you talking about?” I wasn’t really working at the time. I called the Center and I decided I would ask if I could book a show.”
Peru had seen other shows at the Renberg and thought, “What better place to do a queer LGBT show in a beautiful theater?”
Jon Imparato, the Center’s director of cultural arts, had been thinking the same thing.
“Jon said to me, ‘This is so strange. I have a note to call you today.’ It really was a lifeline. The Center got me back into the swing of it.”
In addition to performing such solo shows as She’s Got Balls, There Comes a Time and A Gentle Reminder: Coco’s Guide to a Somewhat Happy Life, the Renberg is also home to the series of unscripted Conversations with Coco shows, in which Peru has interviewed LGBT community favorites such as Liza Minnelli, Bea Arthur, Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Karen Black and Lesley Ann Warren, among others.
A portion of the proceeds from the performer’s solo and interview shows at the Renberg, which usually sell out, benefit the Center’s programs.
“I don’t spend every day over at the Center but when I’m there, I see the people getting together for their support groups,” Peru says. “When you walk into that courtyard at The Village, you feel an energy. I see seniors meeting there and being appreciated. I know people have access to health care and there are services and housing for youth. You have to support the Center and give back.”
It’s an environment a young Clinton Luepp growing up in the New York City borough of The Bronx could not have imagined.
“I was being bullied and feeling there was no future,” Peru recalls. “I remember being a young teen and laying on my couch being frozen in fear saying, “I don’t see a future.” I was a so dark. I had no future. So the fact that I’ve become a drag queen, am married and have gotten to meet many of my idols is pretty remarkable.”
Coco Peru: The Taming of the Tension will play four performances: Saturdays, September 9 and 16 at 8 p.m. and Sundays, September 10 and 17 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $30 and may be purchased online at www.lalgbtcenter.org/theatre or by phone at (323) 860-7300.