West Bank Double Header

The Countess and I lucked into a fabulous double header at the West Bank on Friday night, and with the Mermaid Parade on Saturday, a day of rest on Sunday and a day of catch-up on Monday, I’m only now getting to report back on it. It began with producer/director Elyse Singer’s birthday party in the bar upstairs. Elyse is an old friend – – she’s the mind behind the 1999 revival of Mae West’s Sex (which I wrote a feature about for American Theatre magazine); Frequency Hopping (her award-winning 2007 play about Heddy Lamar, which was at 3LD), and Beebo Brinker. God willing, we’ll be working on something together sometime soon, Lord knows we’ve been talking about it long enough! (Addendum: I did, just a few years later).

Elyse had the excellent idea to bring her celebrants with her to see Confessions of a Prairie Bitch, the one-woman show (and now also book) by Little House on Prairie’s Alison Arngrim (a.k.a Nellie Olsen). I seem to remember reading about a version of this show several years ago. If Arngrim’s been doing it right along it’s certainly lost no vitality. Indeed, as she told the audience, she’s been doing stand-up since she was 16. She’s a as relaxed and “I-don’t-give-a-shit” in front of an audience as…well…a former child star and little rich girl turned gay icon. Even if she didn’t have half the comedic skills she possesses, her life has been sufficiently weird for her to craft some kind of interesting theatre piece out of it. Her father was Liberace’s agent; her mother was a voice-over actor whose most famous role was Casper the Friendly Ghost. There is much behind-the scenes fun-poking at Little House, but Arngrim spent enough time around the Hollywood fringes to be able to record a wide variety of outre anecdotes. Being accosted by Herve Villechaize, the diminutive French house boy  from Fantasy Island (an experience she likens to Karen Black being chased by an evil doll in Trilogy of Terror) was one of the best of these.  One doesn’t have to take Arngrim’s word that she lives a weird life. The audience contained several “Bonnet Heads”, as Little House on the Prairie groupies are called. They were wearing bonnets.

After the last Bonnet Head had departed on the last hay-wagon, the stage was set for drag star Linda Simpson’s fractured (ahem) fairy tale The Emperor’s New Codpiece, directed by friend Tim Cusack. There was many a chuckle to be had in this transplanting of the tale to a nightclub, where drag performers and go-go dancers (of both sexes) vy for the limelight. Dissed diva Melinda (Simpson) decides to get her revenge by convincing her none-too-bright competitors to wear invisible garments in hopes that the club will be shut down. The piece seems to be written for actual nudity to take place — it seems to cry out for it, but the issue is skirted. (Probably because the West Bank doesn’t, uh… want to be shut down). Simpson’s grasp of late Middle English is roughly at the kindergarten level, but that’s appropriate for this funny, playful romp in the sandbox.  You should check it out. It’s playing through July 15.

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