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Lately, Hill may have found an even higher calling. The gray-haired, avuncular "queen" (his word, not mine) has taken his gripes against Harris County District Attorney Johnny Holmes and other powerful Houstonians to the stage. Lucky for us. Hill's Lenny Bruce-style screeds against the powers that be have got to be some of the most provocative, argument-inducing, lively -- and most of all, funny -- entertainment to be found in local theater.
His latest show, Ray Hill and the Sex Police, concerns the relatively recent history of Houston's laws concerning homosexuality and sexually oriented businesses, a topic of enormous personal interest to Hill because, as he tells us, "Sex was [his] middle name, as in homo-sex-ual."
His story begins with the era in which he first came out, back at Galena Park High School. It was the '50s. Eisenhower was president, and "homosexual activity was a felony." Of course, lots of gay sex happened anyway. And Hill gives us a very amusing account of his adolescent sexual experiences which included scary encounters with the law, the kind that must have occurred in many gay teenagers' lives in those years. Of course, most people didn't resort to sexual frolics on the front porch of the First Methodist Church, but then again, most people aren't Hill. He claims to have been such a lousy prostitute that he "lost $40 in three weeks after [he] became a street hooker in downtown Houston."
Luckily, when the '60s came along, Hill found his calling at last. He and a large lesbian named Rita, whom most people referred to as Poppa Bear, formed an organization called the Promethean Society. Members wanted to change the way gay men and women were dealt with in the legal system. Their first court battle took on an outrageously absurd law. Houston police would arrest the lesbians they found in a bar called Roaring Sixties by gathering all women dressed in fly-front pants, taking them downtown and charging them with the infernal infraction of "dressing like a member of the opposite sex." Hill tells us that so many women were arrested that the society eventually paid noted Houston attorney Percy Foreman $3,500 to help them out. He did. But that wasn't the end of things.
That battle began Hill's war with Houston laws concerning gay rights and, more recently, ordinances against sexually oriented businesses. His many stories reveal a strange and sometimes Kafkaesque history that is often so absurd that you won't know whether to shake your head in amazement or laugh at the outlandishness of it all.
These stories, as directed by Joey Berner and Lisa Marie Singerman, are told by Hill on an empty stage with only a glass of water and a backpack full of dildos for help. Hill demonstrates an easy sense of timing and warm, if ironic, affection for his audience. Still, Hill is sometimes too self-congratulatory (at one point he actually calls himself an "Uncle Ray" to all of Houston's downtrodden strippers). But who else could give such a full and firsthand accounting of all the ins and outs, as it were, of the history of Houston's "sex police" and all the weirdness that phrase implies.
Nixon's Nixon runs through February 14 at Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway, (713)52-STAGES. $21-$30.
Ray Hill and the Sex Police plays at 8 p.m. on Wednesday nights through February 24 at Bibas One's a Meal, 607 W. Gray, (713)523-2802. $8-$10.