Christine Jorgensen is one of those names that people growing up in the 1950s associated with a kind of outside-the-mainstream perversity. There were dope smokers. Communists. Homosexuals. And Christine Jorgensen.
''Ex-GI turns Blonde Beauty!" blared the New York Daily News headline about George Jorgensen undergoing one of the first sex-change operations in 1952. Boys teased other boys who showed the least sign of femininity that they should go next.
Fifty-four years later, in his ''Christine Jorgensen Reveals," Bradford Louryk gives Jorgensen the historical remembrance she deserves, that of a smart, courageous pioneer. Not only did she do what she had to do to live a full life, but she did so with enormous grace and sophistication.
Louryk has chosen, in this Theater Offensive import from off-Broadway, to lip-synch the recorded interview she gave Nipsey Russell in 1958, with a pre-recorded Rob Grace as Russell on an old-fashioned TV-screen. Sitting on a chair, stockinged legs crossed, dressed in a blond wig and green suit, Louryk gestures demurely while answering all of Russell's questions patiently (for the most part) and intelligently.
You might think that the format would grow tiresome over the course of 70 minutes, but the opposite is true. Louryk is somewhat off-putting at first, his red lips upturned into a strange smile, the mouth not always in perfect time with the recording.
But as the evening progresses, Louryk's performance becomes increasingly solid as Jorgensen grows more and more admirable with her ability to be so poised and articulate about everything from her sexual life to her cabaret act. Jorgensen speaks with the formality of a Katharine Hepburn and the timbre of a Marlene Dietrich. Her intelligence reflects a time period when people aspired to be smarter than they were rather than dumb down for street cred. No wonder Louryk didn't try to copy it.
Louryk is more than an empty vessel, though. He brings to the performance a winning sense of Jorgensen's poise and glamour. As in all good gender-bending productions, including those at Theater Offensive, he makes us ask what defines a man or a woman -- an issue that Jorgensen keeps coming back to in many of her responses to Russell.
What Louryk and director Josh Hecht had in mind, though, with the depiction of Russell is not so clear. Grace appears onscreen as something out of David Lynch's ''Eraserhead," a strange-looking, nervous figure who seems to be there for comic relief as much as anything, which is distracting and undercutting. Russell does ask a lurid question or two, but this was the 1950s after all. It's more striking, when you think of what life was like for those who didn't toe the line back then, how much respect Russell affords her in the interview.
That aside, ''Christine Jorgensen Reveals" is an extremely effective bit of theater. There's a sadness in Louryk's depiction of her that contrasts beautifully with her intellectual vivaciousness. It couldn't have been easy to live such a public life no matter how articulate she was. Her courage and Louryk's talent reveal quite a lot.
Ed Siegel can be reached at email@example.com.