City Girls and Desperadoes

Originally published in The Villager 2018. (They’ve since folded and taken their archives offline, so I republish it here).

If the chef’s truism holds firm (that good soup depends on good ingredients), then Pamela Enz’s new play City Girls and Desperadoes has the right fixings. It co-stars award-winning stage and screen actor/ director Austin Pendleton; world-renowned choreographer and neo-burlesque pioneer Julia Atlas Muz; and OBIE Award winning Meg MacCary, co-founder and former co-artistic director of acclaimed downtown theatre Clubbed Thumb. It also features an original score by Elliott Randall, a session guitarist best known for his solos on Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ in the Years” and Irene Cara’s “Fame”. Others attached to the production include director Marina McClure, a resident director at the Flea Theater who came out of Lincoln Center Directors Lab; and Julie Petrusak, artistic director of JP Dance Group, who designed original video projections.

Enz’s play, based on a true story, is about a man (Austin Pendleton) who falls in love with a woman (Julie Atlas Muz) who reminds him of a former lover, whose death he blames himself for. Complicating matters is the fact that he is married to yet another woman (Meg MacCary) who is getting awfully tired of waiting for what she believes is a phase to play itself out. Both Muz and Pendleton’s characters cope with grief and loneliness by snorting mountains and mountains of cocaine, supplied by a pair of lesbian drug dealers (Maria Fontanals and Vanida Mendez). The play, not incidentally, is set in the late 1970s. This correspondent found the experience something like a combination of David Rabe’s Hurlyburly and Abe Burrows’ long-forgotten Cactus Flower.

According to Enz, the plot of City Girls and Desperadoes is based on a true story, a case where a couple argued before the woman drove off and died in a car accident. Later, like in something out of Hitchcock’s Vertigo he met a woman who resembled the woman that he lost.

” Everybody thinks, even he thinks, he’s in love with her because she looks like the dead woman,” Enz said. “But he falls in love with her and makes him forget the dead woman, which is something his wife has been trying to do for years.”

In City Girls, the man is played by Austin Pendleton, well known for his turns in movie classics like What’s Up, Doc? and The Muppet Movie, his many Broadway roles (including originating the part of Motel in the original production of Fiddler on the Roof), and scores of productions he’s directed in New York and regionally. According to Enz, Pendleton has been “generous and supportive and “a consistent champion of the piece.”

Co-star Muz has had a high profile lately as well, mostly recently directing her husband Mat Fraser’s Chistmas panto Jack and the Beanstalk at the Abrons Arts Center. The pair were named New Yorkers of the Year in The New York Times. While best known as a dancer and choreographer, Muz is terrific as the woman of Pendleton’s obsession. Enz aptly describes her as “a dynamic mixture of the cerebral and the sensual…”

Intertwined with the tapestry of human interaction is the audio/video-scape devised by Randall and Petrusak. Said Enz, “,,,as the play was being birthed Elliot and [Petrusak] came together and created the home in which it could live – evocative without words and viscerally quite powerful…Our colleague Ève Laroche-Joubert said so smartly that Ms. Petrusak [normally a dance choreographer] was now simply choreographing images through space.”

Readers should be advised that the production contains copious nudity and simulated sex acts which, on top of the rampant drug depictions, make for a refreshingly racy night of theatre. Played without intermission, City Girls and Desperadoes is a roller coaster ride through fraught terrain and a highly recommended chance to see world class theatre artists do their thing.