A Cultural “Pub Crawl”

The Countess and I had an edifiying Sunday afternoon following our matinee performance of the Tent Show Tetragrammaton. First we zipped down to Dixon Place for the World Theatre Day Celebration. This worthy annual event is organized by the International Theatre Institute (ITI), a project of the United Nations, and the Theatre Communications Group. We hung out with our pals Catherine Porter, Barry Rowell and Ralph Lewis of the Peculiar Works Project, and did our part for world peace by drinking glassfuls of red wine. (Wine and theatre  are old Greek traditions, springing from the head of a single  God. Unfortunately, war is also another Greek tradition, but at least it gets a separate God.) At any rate, to prove it really happened, here are some rather poor photographs:

Dixon Place Founder Ellie Covan welcomes the assembled.


Nicky Paraiso, curator of the Club at La MaMa, presents a proclamation
Amanda Feldman, general manager of the Lark Play Development Center, part of the NYC World Theatre Day Coalition

After we had our fill of international brotherhood, we took back to the frigid February streets (too bad it’s late March). Up the street (Chrystie Street, to be specific), we stopped into the Hendershot Gallery, where they just happened to be opening their new exhibition “Keep Out You Thieving Bastards”.  The show is composed of work by Minnesota-area artists, including photographers, painters, sculptors, installation artists, video artists etc etc. The biggest impressions on me were made by the photographers, notably Chris Larson’s series of eerie interiors of an abandoned house, inexplicably filled with ice — The Day After Tomorrow?


Chris Larson, Deep North (Bed) 2008 C-print mounted on aludibond 35 x 35 inches

I also enjoyed the work of Alec Soth, to wit:


Alec Soth, Jimmie’s Apartment, Memphis, Tennessee 2002 C-print 40 x 50 inches

More info on the exhibition is here.

Next we hied us up to St. Marks Church-in-the-Bowery for the opening night of Vampire Cowboys new show The Inexplicable Redemption of Agent G, as part of the Incubator Arts series.

Playwright Qui Nguyen is of course best known as an architect of superlative entertainments, chocolate ice cream-like head rushes of pure pleasure mixing comical fight sequences, genre parody, stereotype deconstruction and broad cultural satire. Lost in the shuffle of the success he’s enjoyed during the past several years is his origins as a more conventional, “earnest” playwright. His early play “Trial by Water” (though published and much produced) was nonetheless lambasted by critics in spite of his worthy intentions and the unimpeachable importance of the subject matter (the horrible ordeal experienced by several members of his family as they attempted to escape from Vietnam). In The Inexplicable Redemption, he revisits this material through the lens of where he’s at today both as a man and as an artist. A crazy-quilt collage more formally playful than perhaps anything he’s done, it confronts not only these real events, but also  the formal and moral struggles of playwriting.

The truth is, the Off-Off Broadway, “indie” theatre community, supposed last bastion of all that is pure in the realm of theatrical art, turns out at bottom to be just as commercial, mindless and superficial as Broadway, Hollywood and Madison Avenue. One gets all the positive reinforcement in the world for giving audiences metaphorical lap dances — for NOT challenging them, for merely entertaining them. To ask an audience to expand, learn, or grow the fuck up oddly tends to be interpreted as ineptitude…as though those aesthetic choices were some accidental failure in the construction of the jolly entertainment machine, instead of an intentional invitation to the audience to waken their sleeping hearts and brains. And this is the attitude nowadays not only of audiences and producers, but of the great majority of “critics”. I’ll be ranting a lot more on this subject in the days to follow, because I’m constantly on the horns of the same dilemma that Qui is talking about — as most of us in the end are, whether we choose to grapple with it or not. Should I say little or nothing with my work, and be popular? Or should I use this talent and this instrument to say something that really matters to me? My personal meal ticket and bete noir is vaudeville; I got a taste of Qui’s version in the lobby at St. Marks after the show:

NERVOUS, SWEATING SCHMUCK, TO HIS DATE:  Heh heh, most of his shows aren’t like this, they’re more like that opening scene. [The opening scene is an exhilarating Vampire Cowboys set piece of rice-hat-wearing Vietnamese shooting each other with machine guns, set to the Rolling Stones “Paint It, Black.”]

SCHMUCK SUBTEXT: I’m so sorry I brought you to this show that accidentally made you think!

I guess you can see what side I come down on in this war. This is likely to remain my favorite Qui Nguyen play — until he writes a better one.  It is personal, painful and risky, and in my book that’s always the type of work most worthy of support. And if this is already turning you off, (motherfuckers!), rest easy. Qui and director Robert Ross Parker do a bang up job of filling his main character’s journey with the usual mix of whiz-bang stagecraft, cool music and effects, martial arts, hysterical one liners and even a couple of original old school raps. Qui”s found a way to draw from both sides of his extremely inventive mind — and I hope he continues to pursue this “third path”. Because what he learns during this voyage of exploration will be of value to all of us.

To find out how to get tickets go here.


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