Review:’s `Zona’

Stephen Lawson, half of the Canadian duo, performs in Zona at the New Conservatory Theatre Center


Candian duo drags out, lip synchs through twilight `Zona’

 Aaron Pollard and Stephen Lawson, who perform under the rubric are campy performance artists.

They take the art of lip synching out of the gay bar and put it into a theatrical world where it both baffles and delights audiences.

Pollard and Lawson have descended into the United States from their artsy perch in Montreal, Canada to perform a limited engagement of their creation Zona at San Francisco’s New Conservatory Theatre Center.

Lawson is the lip-synching drag artist who performs, and Pollard is the behind-the-scenes guy who handles more of the tech stuff – the complex soundtrack mixing opera and dialogue from old movies – and the visually stunning video displays that allow Lawson to perform alongside video version of himself as well as with a growling naked man wearing a bear head.

This is bizarre stuff to be sure, but anyone familiar with consummate drag artists such as Lypsinka, who has raised lip synching to a formidable art, shouldn’t be surprised to see enterprising (and, OK, maybe a little pretentious) artists aiming to take the form even further.

Lawson, dragged out in black stockings, garter belts, a series of black gowns and a long black wig, looks like a cross between Sarah Brightman and Liza Minnelli. We first see him perform a shadow play about a woman, a bird and a giant cat. Or some such.

The only spoken dialogue in the 50-minute piece is Lawson intoning an Aubrey Beardsley poem. The rest is excerpted from opera and American cinema. We hear long excerpts of Katharine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor in Suddenly Last Summer. If you listen closely, you’ll also catch Anne Baxter in All About Eve, Bette Davis in a number of movies, Shirley MacLaine in The Children’s Hour and some Miriam Hopkins, Gena Rowlands and Gracie Fields.

Rather than relying on plot, seems to be after a feeling. This is intuitive storytelling, and it mostly works, though long-form lip synch such as this could benefit from a stronger narrative through line.

Lawson plays a woman crippled by fear. She is part nurse, part sensualist, and her fear is manifested in the form of the aforementioned naked bear. Before facing and vanquishing her fear, she must wander through some rather beautiful videoscapes.

Some of the most arresting images involve Lawson holding up the blank pages of a book onto which are projected words and images. Another involves a miniature theater in which a miniature Lawson interacts with the real-life, three-dimensional Lawson.

Whether or not you recognize all the film references, Zona is still intriguing, especially if you can let your brain just relax and receive the impressions rather than trying to make sense of the visual and audio scramble.’s Zona continues through Aug. 31 at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco. Tickets are $22-$34. Call 415-861-8972 or visit for information.

Here are three scenes from an earlier version of Zona:

1 thought on “Review:’s `Zona’

  1. Great review Chad. I should have stayed for the Q & A last night. I had a great respect for these two artists and being in the cinematography division at Warners for many years, I was fasciated with the video and sound effects. During the show, we knew most of the scenes such as Anne Baxter speech in “All About Eve” and Elizabeth Taylor big scene in “Suddenly Last Summer”. There was one that escape me completely. The projection of the small set with a mini actress doing a Bette Davis voice in a film. I thought it might be from Fox’s “The Star” but I don’t know off hand. Yes I thought that was Gracie Fields singing. I also love the sound of the 100 tap dancers that must have come from a Warner’s musical of the ’30s. I should have know Shirley MacLaine’s voice in “The Children Hour”. Thanks for clearing that up. Your comment on Liza was right on the mark. There was even a time the artist looked like Ms. MacLaine. It will be interesting to see what the regulars who go to the NCTC will think.

    As you probably know during the previews the artists performed a first and second act with intermission. The first act was completely cut on opening night. The reason probably was those regular NCTC theatre goers just did not come back for the second act.

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