True/False Jubilee prone to grandeur and allure


Urmilla Kuttikad

One of the jubilee's bartenders pours drinks out of a tumbler
One of the jubilee’s bartenders pours drinks out of a tumbler

I’ve never understood the concept of masquerade balls. That stretch of a person’s face — from the fan of wrinkles framing one eye to the fan of wrinkles framing the other — is, to me, their most definitive and expressive feature. Why would you ever want to cover that up?

But on Thursday night, clutching a beautiful, borrowed New Orleans mask painted in muted golds and silvers, I hesitantly wandered into the True/False Jubilee at the Missouri Theater, ready to wander right back out at any given moment.
The barrage of sights and sounds and warmth was immediately overwhelming, but steeled by the sight of other, braver masks, I made up my mind to stay and gently twisted the mask’s black ribbons into a bow around my head.
Immediately I understood: the world that exists while wearing a mask is fundamentally different — better — than the one that exists without a mask. This new world is constructed entirely upon airs of allure and mystery. Nobody knew who I was, and there was an unexpected thrill in that knowledge.
This new world was just as beautiful as the last one. If anything, the Missouri Theater looked more beautiful than before. The maroon and gold foliage preening itself across the theater’s carpets blossomed plushly onto the walls as well, reminiscent of some grander era. Chandeliers unfolded themselves from the ceiling, lazily dazzling, obviously aware of their own beauty and reluctantly illuminating the perhaps-even-more-beautiful gold crowning pipetted along ceiling edges.
Filling this rich-hued vision, positioned at the top of the staircase, was the music. They were unapologetically, determinedly folksy, and it wouldn’t have been right any other way. On deep-timbred guitars and stand-up basses, keyboards, mandolins, violins and four-part harmonies, they were some musical wildfire, lighting the theater more warmly and richly than any literal fire would have been capable of.
It was into this environment that the people streamed, every bit as grand and beautiful as their surroundings, some strange strain of majestic iguana. Improbably stylish, often outrageous, all veiled in a layer of intrigue. Their masks were constructed with anything from steely forks to black feathers that plumed upwards into velvety greens and indigos, their costumes anything from fiercely beautiful lace to some patchwork of synthetic materials. Who knew what they were murmuring about, but I assumed it was a heady mix of espionage and Russian politics and deadly romance.
These enigmas milled around, clutching drinks perhaps as interesting as they were. The drinks sat perfectly still on counters but then again they didn’t have to move to be seductive. They brimmed with hues of lethal crystal and intoxicating plum, toting names like “Love in the Time of Whiskey” and “Ruby Holler” and “A Gangster’s Paradise.” They were mixed by bartenders in narrow suspenders and messenger hats or simple clothing and magnificent rosy tattoos. They shook the drinks violently in tumblers, smashed blackberries into a bloody plum mess, then, in the calm after the storm, watched as people took their art, grinning muted grins at their own casual power.
The drinks lulled the air of conversation into an emerald tide, ebbing and flowing at the shore of importance, carried by the warm undercurrent of the music, shone on by the sun of irreproachable grandeur. To be unknown in this was more perfect a situation than I could have imagined — it removed all inhibition and lent me ambiguity of identity. It didn’t matter what that identity was — I could have been an intelligence agent or an ice cream truck driver or the best mime the streets of Paris had ever seen — or maybe I was all three. I had all night to decide, or not decide anything at all.
As the jubilee wound down and I stepped into the actual theater to see the first movie of my True/False experience this year, “Jodorowsky’s Dune,” it felt like walking out of an elaborately constructed dream. As I undid the ribbons that had secured my ambiguity of identity for the last pair of hours, the memories blurred themselves at the edges like any good dream and I knew they would soon sigh from my mind, returning only every now and then to remind me of an incredibly important message: that with a mask and some folk, I was invincible.
By Urmila Kutikkad