In response to discrimination against and the widespread negative depiction of differently abled people, the disability arts movement—also frequently referred to today as Crip Culture—began in the late seventies as a cultural corrective. It’s not a moniker that suits all would-be practitioners. While some differently abled may not consider their work a response to their range of abilities, limited or otherwise, it’s a category the duo of Mat Fraser and Julie Atlas Muz fervently embrace. Muz, a performance artist who uses burlesque as an instrument in her own feminine sexual empowerment, juices up the Museum of Contemporary Art stage in this radically updated and at times all-nude, vividly sexually explicit production. Involving a feast of fruits and sexual positions, sometimes interchanging the two, and with the help of Jonny Dixon and Jess Mabel Jones as puppeteers, it’s an interpolation of the couple’s own love story with the oft-idealized tale of love’s emotional inexplicabilities.
Being treated as an aberration has been a part of Fraser’s own life history: his mother took a leprosy treatment drug called Thalidomide during her pregnancy, which caused Fraser to be born with the rare congenital disease phocomelia and an extreme foreshortening of the arms. Fraser met Muz in 2006 as a performer in the Coney Island Circus Sideshow, and went on to star in the critically lauded “American Horror Story: Freak Show” as Paul The Illustrated Seal.
In this production of the classic fairy tale, Muz and Fraser explore disability to unearth the hidden social commentary in the story, adding nuance and flair meant to challenge and inform the sensibilities of the audience. It’s a must-see, not merely for the incalculably brave performances of these two talented artists, but for the expansion of the severely under-recognized work being done in crip culture. (Michael Workman)
ONEOFUS Mat Fraser and Julie Atlas Muz’s “Beauty and the Beast” at MCA Stage, 220 East Chicago, (312)397-4010. December 1-4 and 8-11. Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays at 3pm. Post-show talks December 1 and 8, and a special “relaxed performance” is scheduled for Dec. 9 to provide a welcoming environment for people with learning disabilities and/or sensory communication impairments. $10-$30, mcachicago.org.