Archive for March, 2008

Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad

Posted in Burlesk, Comediennes, Comedy, Contemporary Variety, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Jews/ Show Biz, Women on March 26, 2008 by travsd

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One of the ironies of show business (and by extension American culture) is that the grossest stereotypes are often perpetrated by the misrepresented groups themselves. Exaggeration is the elixir of comedy; liberally mixed with “write what you know”, a heady cocktail results, one that is only partially composed of veritas (despite what the worst among us seem to think)

Thus for over half a century, the wider culture has been on the receiving end of a misconception of Jewish women cooked up by Jewish comedians of both sexes: that they are domineering, materialistic, frigid in the bedroom, and lacking in both self-restraint and taste. Now, your correspondent has enjoyed – no, had – no, been with – uh, no – uh, been involved with – yeah – been involved with approximately a half dozen Jewish girlfriends over his long career as a Hebrewphile, and he is here to tell you that they are NOT frigid in the bedroom. Uh, or the rest of it.

As the great Bert Lahr used to put it, “Where do you get that stuff?” Apparently things are different in Long Island, because in Manhattan (at least my Manhattan) you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting some brilliant, sexy, funny, down-to-earth Yiddische Mama. (I hit one with a dead cat only today, but that was on purpose. It’s a little game we play).Granted, I am in the theater, and the downtown theatre at that. It attracts the crème de la crème of any ethnicity. Nevertheless to my mind, for every Leah in New York there are a hundred Rachels, and I will always strive to be the first in line for their belly-dances. And if you don’t know what that means, we have nothing more to talk about.

Now, as Billy Crystal said (too often) in Mr. Saturday Night: “Look what happened”. Up at the Zipper Factory, Goddess Perlman, a comedienne I’d previously known only by reputation, and because she’s in my new film, has re-launched her long-running Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad show, a mix of stand-up, sexy dance numbers and funny songs. These Nice Jewish Girls have not gone bad because they are past the expiration date. If anything, they have gone good. To my mind, the show is above all a showcase for Perlman’s talent, which combines comical ability, musical skill, and most importantly, in the best vaudevillian tradition, will power. “Goddamn it, this is me, this about me, I am up here, I exist, I love it, and don’t kid yourself, this why we are all here.” Personally, this is why I go to the theatre; in my view, on some level it’s why the art form exists. I don’t want to see a bunch of people in black leotards breathing at the same time. It may do something for them; it does nothing for me. On the other hand, a Fiddler on the Roof strip number – that’s art with a capital A, a capital R and a capital T. In addition to her own schtick, Perlman presents what she calls “a Pupu platter of Jews…or a JuJu platter of poos.” A rock/Klezmer arrangement called The Foreskins is the back-up band, there is a cast of cute Jewish chickies of vastly different shapes and sizes for the chorus, and the variety bill consists mostly of stand-up comediennes with respectable tv credits – none of whom are remotely like Joan Rivers or Henny Youngman’s wife.

If no Jewish men will date these women, I’m currently available.

I believe the show is up through April and there’s info at nicejewishgirlsgonebad.com.

 

Trav S.D.’s EZEKIEL’S WHEELCHAIR in London

Posted in Indie Theatre, My Shows, PLUGS on March 8, 2008 by travsd

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London Friends, and Friends of Those in London:

This is an invitation to see and hear my first play to cross the Puddle. Grey Light Productions is presenting readings of my experimental play EZEKIEL’s WHEELCHAIR in their American Voices series on March 11, 14 & 22 at 7:30pm at the Greenwich Playhouse, Greenwich Station Forecourt, 189 Greenwich High Road, London.

In this Beckett-flavored one-act, two women obsess about the man in their life: a Stephen Hawking-like genius who has drained all color from the universe…

For more info: 020 88589256
boxoffice@galleontheatre.co.uk
www.galleontheatre.co.uk

I hope you can make it!

I remain,

yours,

Trav S.D.

Beebo Brinker and the Legitimacy of Naive Art in the Theatre

Posted in CAMP, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Drag and/or LGBT, Indie Theatre, Women with tags on March 3, 2008 by travsd

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Rare are those moments – horrible and wonderful – when our waking lives assume the heightened quality of a strange and unexpected dream. Surely that is what Ann Bannon is thinking these days, given the Second Coming of her Sapphic Savior Beebo Brinker over a half century after she was created. Penned in the closeted fifties and early sixties, cherished by a small but avid cult following since, this series of lesbian pulp novels has recently been turned into an off-off (and now an off) Broadway stage play called The Beebo Brinker Chronicles, inspiring fans of the book to travel from as far away as San Francisco and Saskatchewan to see it. The Beebo Brinker creators know what the producers of The Bible knew – it pays to adapt a classic.

 

To folks in the lesbian community (of which I am merely what you might call an “interested observer”), the Beebo Brinker novels are apparently a sort of founding scripture — the “tablets”, if you will. More than just the steamy exploitational outings their paperback covers might suggest, the books seem to have offered their fans feelings of validation and acceptance, and to have cast a much longer shadow than most similar so-called pulp publications. They tell tales of house wives and farm girls coming to the big city, finding and joining the gay community – and not getting struck by lightning.

 

The producers of the play were and are adamantine in their determination not to have this production be a mere exercise in camp. While the play contains many light and (if you’ll excuse the expression) even broad moments, the main tone of the production (currently playing at 37arts in NYC) is one of earnestness and respect. And here, by God, is where they really, really get it right.

 

The late Susan Sontag was of the opinion (certainly borne out by the historical record) that the gay community was a principle driving force behind the invention of camp in the first place, which is ironic. But as Sontag pointed out, the camp attitude is sort of one of despair. It is a disowning of the thing one loves. One feels guilty for loving Mildred Pierce. One feels even guiltier for wanting to dress like Mildred Pierce. So Mildred Pierce is hung in effigy. There is a cruelty in it, an ungenerousness, a killer instinct, one at least partially directed against oneself. Furthermore – it is superficial, and it is easy.

 

The step beyond that tone of mere destructiveness was there from the beginning, ironically. Charles Ludlam, often considered one of the founding “mothers” of camp, is said to have brought tears to the eyes of his audiences with his Camille. Compassion and humanity – isn’t that what the theater is for? Cruelty is for the coliseum.

 

I felt a kinship with the philosophy behind Beebo Brinker. A number of years ago I was fortunate enough to take part in the Ed Wood Festival produced by Ian Hill and Frank Cwiklik and their respective companies (GeminiCollisonworks and DMTheatrics). I was overjoyed to be able to do, having been a fan of Wood’s movies since the early 90s when I was introduced to them by my psychopharmacologist and pedicurist Robert Pinnock. (Prior to that, I’d only really known about Plan 9, because it was the name of a garage band in Rhode Island.) My colleagues and I have had many a discussion on the silly topic of Ed Wood, and there’s an attitude about him and his work I believe we all share. All of us, at some relatively early stage, moved BEYOND a mere scoffing at Ed Wood’s ineptitude as a film-maker (which, don’t get me wrong, is near total in every conceivable way) to an APPRECIATION for the virtues he possesses. Anyone can laugh at something “bad.” And I assure you, I continue to howl all through Wood’s films, and to quote his terrible lines, and to impersonate his terrible actors. I must, or I wouldn’t have watched these films dozens of times.

And this is the crux of it. Something about these films compelled me to watch them dozens of times. And not just me, but many strangers from around the country – as though we all had the Close Encounters tune planted in our heads. I’ll be damned if I know what it is. I do think Wood is very good at conjuring up an atmosphere. I also think that since HE was such a huge film fan, he was able to transcend his ineptitude by conjuring countless visions planted in the collective unconscious by the Hollywood dreamsmiths: Bela Lugosi, Vampira, Tor Johnson, flying saucers, mad scientists, noir era hoodlums and gangsters. They don’t have to be in any plausible story, what they say doesn’t have to make sense – they just have to be there, as though someone had thrown some comic books, Universal horror posters and 45 rpm records into a blender and made movie slaw. And that’s kind of how dreams are, isn’t it? And, probably most important of all, Wood went at it with heart, with an absolute, vulnerable assurance – a vision – that every choice he was making was the right one. He believed in it. Belief – in this cynical world – is a rare and beautiful thing. And that virtue – that simplicity – in Wood’s films is to me a superior quality to the impulse to ridicule somebody else for some obvious but harmless fault.

And so, too with Beebo Brinker. Bannon’s storylines (here adapted by Linda Chapman and Kate Moira Ryan) about Greenwich Village sexual awakenings, trysts and triangles could easily be the stuff of a rude guffaws. Good Lord – Hitler took a bunch of 20th century modernist masterpieces on a museum tour of Germany for the Nazis to laugh at. It is a boorish impulse.

These days the museum world has a firmly established category for folk art, or naïve art. There, it is treated with respect, talked about, criticized. Often such painting will have a didactic aspect that is anathema to “above all that” high-brows. Some years ago, I was at a gallery opening for a show of paintings by the Rev. Howard Finster (best known perhaps for supplying the Talking Heads with an album cover). Rev. Finster’s paintings are religious – and how the wine-drinkers chortled at his pronouncements of faith, right to his face. The man had a vision, and it ought to have been respected, no matter how uneven his hand in applying the paint. In the film world, the closest thing we have to a similar idea is the auteur theory, once controversial, but now so mainstream no one even thinks about it anymore. Essentially, it is the idea that some films previously considered “pulp” – say Nicholas Ray’s They Live By Night – are worthy of serious appreciation by critics. In the theatre, some have extended a similar respect to actors, or, that is to say, non-actors. Many fine directors have realized many fine productions in forms we call “community theater” or “pageantry” using untrained, but enthusiastic amateurs. So why not the text? Naïve art for the theatre. I say it has a legitimate place, and requires no plain brown wrapper.

I remain,

Your humble and obedient,

 

Trav S.D.

P.S.: Also, this play has two chicks making out.

 

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