Archive for the Indie Theatre Category
It’s been my career-long ambition to study this ancient art form. It’s kind of the foundation of everything I’m interested in and it’s kind of a glaring gap in my dossier. But it looks like I may finally take the plunge this go round. You should too!
|Upcoming Roving Sessions
Roving Classical Commedia University* Events
in the Grand Salon at CENTRO ESPAÑOL 239 West 14 St, NYC
$535 over 40 hours
“Anyone can open the drawer marked Commedia dell’Arte,
Roving Classical Commedia University* (RCCU*)
Covering the basics of the northern Commedia dell’Arte
Areas of concentration:
Women of the Commedia dell’Arte
Scenario & Improvisation
Taught by master teacher:
workshop registration, information, bookings
Schedule subject to change
On the development history of, and plans for the current show Longing Lasts Longer:
We started work in June of 2014. It’s a work in progress. I’ve always developed my pieces in front of audience. I’m one of the only people who actually does that. We have the four performances at Joe’s Pub. Then we’ll be getting ready for the Edinburgh Festival August 25-30, and then the Soho Theatre in London. Then hopefully we’ll come back here to remount a full production in 2016.
On working with long-time collaborator Steve Zehentner:
I’ve been working with Steve for 23 years. I first met him at PS 122 when he came to shoot the video for Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore! He said he had never seen a show where it changed every night because of the improv. He became a kind of dramaturg for my work. We work on everything together. I do most of the writing. He does a small percentage of the writing and devises the sound score. But I pick the songs I want to use. And we both co-direct the piece. He is probably the overall structure guy; I’m the detail person.
On drag, burlesque, showmanship, and connecting with the audience:
Drag is any costume that you put on — including people who dress up to go to their office job. In the ’80s and into the ’90s, my work was very costumed, with wigs and costumes, make up and glitter. In the 90s, I stopped doing that and started dressing in black. When some of the dancers I work with saw video from the ’80s, they were shocked. It never occurred to them that I used to have costumes and characters and had rock bands and I sang. Performers evolve – look at someone who’s been a performer for a long time like Jackie Gleason or Bob Hope, you look at their work from the ’50s or ’60s, and then you find out they did music hall, vaudeville. As a performer you go through many different incarnations . I identify most with 1950s comedy writers. I try to make jokes, something will make people laugh in a way that means something, not just crass below the belt humor. I like that [my work] is quotable. I like work that has more life to it than just me on stage…
…Bitch! had a lot of erotic dancing in it. Stripping is an art form. I stripped to Lenny Bruce’s speech on obscenity. Other people developed their own thing through the ’90s and ran with it. But burlesque has become annoying. Ubiquitous. Every 22 year old does it now. But instead of political and anarchic neo-burlesque like Dirty Martini and Julie Atlas Muz do, it’s become like a cheerful burlesque lite. It’s very Victoria Secrety. There is no influence of [that kind of] burlesque on my work. I was always interested in down and dirty erotic female dancing. Real erotic dancing, which one usually sees at the lower end of the class spectrum. It’s a feminist art form. It’s the only thing devised by women that controls men, unlike practically everything else. I love erotic dancing with a tribal hypnotic trance background.
I love vaudeville. I love real entertainment. I’m an aficionado of that sort of thing. I hate reality style entertainment, like reality tv where they investigate reality with a microscope instead of making stuff up and being whimsical and fantastical. I never forget that I’m an entertainer, I’m not a journalist or an essayist. I try to give the audience some bang for their buck. It’s cultural analysis you can dance to. [At Longing Lasts Longer] the audience will be rocking in their seats.
The general public are the producers of my shows. People support the work by buying tickets. The audience is really interested in original art and I love them being the producers. I love that feeling when you look out in audience and you know everyone in that audience. It’s a way to come together. People say, “I laughed, I cried, you talked about what I think about.” We all have same thoughts. My job to dig a little deeper. Lee Breuer of Mabou Mines came to see my show. He said he had never been to see a show where people “called out” so much. People identify with what I’m talking about. It’s like a revival meeting.
Longing Lasts Longer opens at Joe’s Pub tonight: tickets and info here.
I was so excited upon hearing that Retro Productions would be doing George S. Kaufman’s 1925 play The Butter and Egg Man, that I wanted to be among the first to see it, and last night I was. I was psyched about the show for many reasons.
One is that I enjoyed their recent production of A Day in the Death of Joe Egg. (Apparently Retro Productions only does shows with eggs in the title. Others include The Egg and I, and Omelette, Prince of Denmark.)
Two (much like the recent revival of Helen of Troy, New York) it helps close the gap on my knowledge of Kaufman’s prodigious canon. Written just as the playwright began to hit his very long Broadway stride, The Butter and Egg Man is one of his show biz comedies, sharing much in common with later works like The Royal Family, Once in a Lifetime, and Stage Door. A “butter and egg man” is a sucker, a rich naif with a weakness for glamour whom you get to back your play. In this excellently structured comedy, a couple of scheming producers convince a greenhorn to underwrite their turkey. We watch him go from boy to businessman in three hilarious acts.
The play was funny, but as in all Kaufman comedies, its chief selling point is as a framework to let talented actors romp and play and stretch their legs (which is the main reason actors constantly revive his plays). The joy last night was in seeing a bunch of gonzo operators (most of whose work I know and love) bring their A-game, and play their parts big and true, (doing both at the same time — that’s always the magic act).
As the scheming Broadway producer, Brian Silliman is a thunderbolt, chewing the scenery and his cigar ends with equal parts aggression and relish. His performance is downright balletic, as large as an exploding gas station but as full of comic flourishes and filligrees as Barrymore’s in Twentieth Century. It may be projection in part but I feel like I caught flashes of Dom Deluise, Jackie Gleason, Zero Mostel, Oliver Platt, Chris Farley, Jack Black and thanks to the big cigar, Edward G. Robinson. See him now: before he kills himself or someone else in this performance. He is the pace-setter for this show, pulling the company forward like a roped rhinoceros. (H’m, now I want to see him in Rhinoceros. Come to think of it, Mostel was in that. too).
Big praise, too, for Shay Gines who is UNRECOGNIZABLE in the plum role of an aging stage diva, By unrecognizable, I mean I did not know it was her (and I’ve known her for many years) until I looked in the program at intermission. She delivers the goods. She’s definitely drawing from Gloria Swanson, but there’s a lot of stage ham in what she’s delivering too (I thought of Dame Diana Rigg, but Rigg’s just the latest in a line as long as Leviticus. The point is she conjures memories of big stage and screen personalities.)
And a third revelation (among so many) was Seth Shelden, whom I’d never heard speak on stage, in TWO separate roles, each as unalike from the other as unalike can be. Not surprisingly, he brings hilarious physical work to each, with his usual attention to detail, but he also used his voice to great comic effect (I suppose I’m having the same kind of Seth moment as others did when they first saw him as Harpo, but in reverse.)
Kaufman is all about the comedy ensemble and all of ’em shine here: Matthew Trumbull against type as Silliman’s streetwise but low-key sidekick (Norton to his Kramden); Heather Cunningham summoning Sophie Tucker and Marie Dressler as a wise-cracking nouveau riche ex-vaudeville juggler; Sarah K. Lippmann (also against type) as a flapper with a weakness for champagne; Alisha Spielmann, sweet and wide-eyed as the honest ingenue; and Rebecca Gray Davis as a truth-talking telephone operator. New to me was Ben Schnickel, who in the title role possessed a quality I can only describe to 30 Rock fans as “Kennethesque”, and Ryan McCurdy, whose performance was so offbeat and convincingly screwy that I am eager to see his next performance so I can see what he is really like. And wait, also Chad Anthony Miller, as a self-involved, time-serving director, and C.J. Malloy as Zero, the Lobby Boy!
The house at the Gene Frankel is VERY small so get your tickets now. Once word gets around, you AIN’T gettin’ a ticket to this unless they move it. I would gladly see this production again several times, that’s how much I enjoyed some of these performances. Thanks, Retro Productions, for reminding me — again — of why I ever got involved in the theatre.
Tickets and info at: http://www.retroproductions.org/retroproductions.htm
The theatre is Lucy Van Pelt and her football; I am Charlie Brown. I keep getting sweet talked back, but really it’s really just a trick, and this is what inevitably happens:
I went to see The 39 Steps on assignment for a publication last night. I voluntarily opted not to write the review (or take the fee) this morning so that I can feel free to write what I really feel, and what I feel is too strong (too extreme, too vitriolic) for any respectable publication to be responsible for.
Is “garbage” too strong a word? If “garbage” is something that’s useless to you, that’s disposable, that you want not just to throw away, but to have carted away, far far away to a landfill 50 miles from where you live, where you’ll never have to see it or smell it or think about it ever again — then, no, “garbage” is not too strong a word.
I guess the editor can be forgiven for thinking I wasn’t quite serious here and here, but, no – – I was. I’m going to be mighty pissed if I consider my time wasted. And I’m to be blamed, too, for certain. I genuinely wanted to see this show. It’s set in the 1930s, people spoke highly of it, it’s supposed to be “farcical”, and I really love the Hitchcock movie. But, no, it was a total and utter waste of time, an exercise in vacuity and emptiness: well executed, well designed, well performed, well “directed” emptiness, all cleverness hung on a foundation of nothing. It was like looking at a bunch of ornaments with no Christmas tree underneath.
You know the conceit, right? Four actors perform an adaptation of Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, with wink-wink jokes along the way. They do an impressive number of funny characters, and a little quick-change (but not as much as you’d think — most of the changes aren’t that quick). I might find it an entertaining vaudeville turn or comedy sketch if it were kept to ten minutes. But it’s a full-length evening.
Much like The Mystery of Edwin Drood (which I also detested), it’s a sort of play-within-a-play, in that the actors keep doing a bunch of meta business about missed cues and so forth. But the actors who play the parts are never defined, nor are the offstage stagehands and board ops etc who give them these miscues. So it’s just a bunch of general business like that part of the circus where a bunch of clowns come out and start bumping into each other and falling down for no reason. Who are they? Any idiot can fall down in the service of nothing. I don’t need to go to a theatre for that.
Because of this secondary level, we can’t be drawn into a plot or care about the characters or their predicament. It’s a pity. As in Edwin Drood I found myself longing to watch a REAL version. In desperation to look at something with integrity that I could care about, I found myself counting the number of bricks in the bare wall at the back of the stage: It turns out there are 9,357. (You see, I really did that).
As for the much praised and award-winning design elements: they were undoubtedly well executed and even beautiful to look at and listen to. But I must tell you in all seriousness there was NONE of it….NONE of it, the toy train, the silhouettes, the puppets and dummies and fake limbs, that I haven’t seen dozens and scores and hundreds of times in the storefonts and basements and little theatres of New York’s indie theatre. Is that what gets you a TONY? Then I can name you a hundred friends who deserve those TONYs.
My takeaway from The 39 Steps? I’d rather be dumped in a cold Scottish marsh in handcuffs at night followed by vicious dogs than have such an experience again.
But if you want to? Here: http://www.39stepsny.com/about.html
When I moved to New York, Penny Arcade OWNED performance art. Her smash show Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore!, her in-your-face response to Jesse Helms and the conservatives who de-funded the NEA 4 (and then the rest of the NEA) ran forever…in fact it’s pretty much still running…she still books it and performs it internationally.
But she’s still creating new work, too. Her new work-in-progress Longing Lasts Longer will be at Joe’s Pub from May 18 through June 8. The new show’s themes will not be a shock to those who follow her on social media…she’s been airing these ideas for months now. And I’m with this lady all the way. Not just because she’s such a radical individualist, or such a clear and articulate thinker, or such a combative truth-teller. Well, yes because of all of those. But mostly because she is right. And one thing needs to be made clear. Young people need to know that this isn’t about a bunch of fogeys bemoaning the old days. As Penny says, change is constant, particularly in New York. What’s alarming is that the particular change she is talking about is seismic and UNPRECEDENTED. This isn’t about ongoing change, or the old lament of “this city’s going to hell in a handbasket”. It’s that over the past 20 years a cultural revolution (more accurately, a counter-revolution) has happened in this city (and really, all cities). Thanks largely to the internet I think there has been a cultural flattening out. Cities were once meccas where you necessarily had to go (i.e., physically go, move to) in order to be exposed to a certain kind of cultural richness and sophistication. If people wanted a different kind of life, a quieter more vanilla kind of life, they would move to the suburbs. Now for the first time in history, that is not the case. People are moving here from the suburbs and bringing the suburbs (including their 7-11s and Applebees) with them. From a cultural perspective it’s the opposite of gentrification, it’s a mediocrification. But anyway, I’ll let her do the talking.
We talked a LOT for the Villager interview which just hit the stands. In fact, I had to cut a lot of what we talked about. Penny (like her contemporary Karen Finley) was an important precursor to what became the “burlesque movement”. Her performance art featured lots of nudity and erotic dancing. It was a lot dirtier and more political than the classic striptease revival. But her work is what came just before Julie Atlas Muz, World Famous Bob and Dirty Martini, and was one of the forces that conditioned theatre audiences to be open to the frank presentation of the human body onstage. We talked a bit about that, as well as her longtime working relationship with her director, Steve Zehenter, and her insistence and stress on her show as entertainment. This was good stuff, but we had to keep the published piece focused and to a certain word count. I may be posting the excerpts though in the next few days because the woman is just too brilliant, and, what is more important, a hot pistol.
The Villager interview is here: http://chelseanow.com/2015/05/counterculture-as-cure-for-new-yorks-sugar-coma/