Archive for the Indie Theatre Category

R.I.P. Dan Von Bargen (Belated)

Posted in Broadway, Hollywood (History), Indie Theatre, Movies, OBITS with tags , , , , on November 17, 2015 by travsd


Very saddened just now to Google somebody I admired only to learn that he died eight months ago. Character actor Dan Von Bargen passed away back in March. He was one of several top flight actors (like Richard Jenkins, George Martin, Peter Gerety and others) I had the privilege of watching and learning from during my days at Trinity Rep Conservatory (and in my earlier years as a high school student being bussed to productions at Trinity Rep). Von Bargen was someone whose acting EVERYBODY admired. I’ll never forget a moment in one play (I wish to hell I could remember which one) where he was a businessman — he developed this great business of rolling a scotch glass back and forth in the palms of his hands for the character that has always stuck with me. I can see it in my head right now. I’ve been knocking the theatre a lot lately but some moments, often seemingly unimportant ones, can stick with you like that, like visual poetry. And believe you me I thought I was cock of the walk when Von Bargen was effusive in his praise of my performance as “Shooter” in Sam Shepard’s Action, and then came to see it a second time. (Although that may well have been on behalf of the highly fetching 22-year old female director who had a way of making every man within half a mile walk into walls and off of balconies).

He was REALLY castable, with a somewhat piggy face and a pushed in nose, combined with a breathy, insuating voice and extremely intelligent, almost malevolent, eyes that made him perfect for pugnacious military men and cops, businessmen, etc. He knew this about himself, and he went with it. You can’t play your instrument without knowing all the stops and he knew ’em. (Trinity’s Artistic Director Adrian Hall seemed to favor such actors. As I recall the company was cast ENTIRELY with unpretty but highly excellent character actors). Anyway—

A big break for Von Bargen happened when he played a Hawkish general in the original production of Larry Gelbart’s Mastergate at nearby A.R.T. and then it moved to Broadway. While he’d had film and tv roles before, they began to get more prominent. Bit parts in things like Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Shadows and Fog (1991) then turned into bigger things like major roles in Basic Instinct (1992), Crimson Tide (1995), Broken Arrow (1996) and a nice cameo in O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000). He also had recurring television roles like Mr. Kruger on Seinfeld and Commandant Spangler in Malcolm in the Middle.

What I did not know is that in recent years he had had health problems. Diabetes had resulted in the amputation of a leg and the projected amputation of toes on the remaining foot. He attempted suicide in 2012 (a fact I had not heard). And in March he passed away, I’m assuming of his illness.

I’m sad he’s gone, but all I can say is, there’s lot of film of him. You should check out his work. Even though he played a lot of mean characters, he was really a very nice guy.

At Coney Island USA Thru Halloween: The Ride Inspector’s Nightmare

Posted in BROOKLYN, Coney Island, Indie Theatre, PLUGS with tags , , , on October 24, 2015 by travsd


The Bonfire of the Vanities: The Opera

Posted in Indie Theatre, LEGIT, EXPERIMENTAL & MUSICAL THEATRE with tags , , , , on October 13, 2015 by travsd


We were excited to attend the premiere performance of friend Stefania de Kennesey’s new opera the other night, her long awaited adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities. The first person we saw when we walked in the door was Mr. Wolfe himself (he’s easy to spot in that immaculate white suit). I’d love to have told him how much The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Right Stuff, and the novel in question all meant to be…but he was sitting towards the front…and I was sitting in the very back — know what I mean?

Bonfire is the quintessential ’80s literary property and to put it mildly it didn’t get justice from Hollywood, so we had high hopes for the stage adaptation. I happen to love Stefania’s music as well as her philosophy of art, which makes her an excellent match for Wolfe. They both have an aesthetic of populism and accessibility, a notion of the artist as a kind of public servant (as opposed to an obscurantist or elitist of some sort). As predicted, I loved her music for the new opera, and found it surprisingly pop sounding, even more than I would have anticipated. I also enjoyed the brisk, lively staging of her collaborator Michael Bergmann as well as his funny, even earthy lyrics. The three hours playing time (short for an opera) flew by.

An attempt has been made to update the story to 2015. I’m not sure if the transplantation has been completely successful, or if such a thing is even possible. So much has changed in (almost) 30 years, and we’re at an especially sensitive juncture at present on the issue of race, which is so central to this satire. But much applause to de Kennessey and Bergmann for grappling with the myriad difficult ideas the book contains, and converting it into wonderful new art. I loved the CRAFT of the two principal artists and would love to see an entire season of operas like this; many, many seasons, in fact. Learn more about the Bonfire opera here:

Hall of Hams #96: Nance O’Neil

Posted in Broadway, Hollywood (History), Horror (Mostly Gothic), Indie Theatre, Melodrama and Master Thespians, Movies, Silent Film, The Hall of Hams, Women with tags , , , , , , on October 8, 2015 by travsd


Today is the birthday of Nance O’Neil (Gertrude Lamson, 1874-1965).

O’Neil was a major stage and screen star of her day, called “the American Bernhardt“, managed by McKee Rankin, she toured Australia, the British Isles and the whole of continental America, in addition to Broadway, playing the leads in such plays as Camille, Hedda Gabler, Trily, Judith of Bethuliah, and her breakthrough role in Leah, The Foraken. She also appeared in about three dozen movies from 1913 through 1932, notable ones being Floradora Girl (1930) with Marion Davies, and Edna Ferber’s Cimarron (1931).

But, because we are terrible, we find her most interesting because she was a close, personal friend of Lizzie Borden. I first learned about this from David Foley’s play Nance O’Neill, which I caught at the Access Theatre in 2010. O’Neill and Borden met at a party in Boston in 1904. This was 12 years after the Fall River murders. Both women had a certain notoriety, so there was something in common there. They became besties, and some suspect, more.

Anyway, this inspires me. As part of my series of Halloween horror posts launched here, I think I’ll follow this one up later today with one about screen portrayals of Lizzie!

To find out  about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, released by Bear Manor Media. 

Two H.P. Lovecraft Things You Should Do!

Posted in BROOKLYN, EXHIBITIONS & LECTURES, Horror (Mostly Gothic), Indie Theatre, PLUGS, Radio (Old Time Radio) with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 1, 2015 by travsd


If only H.P. Lovecraft had known while he was alive that some day he would have an entire international cult of devotees! But given his truck with the supernatural I’ll just bet he DID know! As we’ve blogged here and and here and here we are most devoted to the old (and odd) fellow, to whom I happen to be distantly related.

At any rate, this month, two far out Lovecraft doings for the Halloween season:


First, there’s RadioTheatre’s 7th annual H.P. Lovecraft Festival, running tonight through October 11 at the Kraine Theatre. Tonight they’ll be doing their radio readings of “The Horror at Red Hook”, “Hypnos” and “The Curse of Yig”. Get the full schedule etc here.

Not Jane Rose

Not Jane Rose

AND, (very exciting) Jane Rose is reviving her popular H.P. Lovecraft in Brooklyn walking tour, presented by the Museum of Morbid Anatomy. We took the tour a few months ago and couldn’t have enjoyed it more (well we could have if there were monsters) but we loved it nonetheless (read our account here). I’m told the October 10 tour is sold out but there is still room on October 17. Get your tickets and info here. 

Last Night’s Lower East Side Junket

Posted in Burlesk, Contemporary Variety, German, Indie Theatre, PLUGS, Singers, Singing Comediennes, Women with tags , , , , , , on September 29, 2015 by travsd

Despite yesterday’s oppressively nasty weather, the Mad Marchioness and I finally shook off our summertime torpor last night and poked our heads out into the world. It’s been months since we’ve done such a thing, and as often happens after such a hiatus, we stacked a bunch of activities into a single evening, helped along by convenient geography.


First we went to the Slipper Room for a sneak peek at Jonny Porkpie’s new silent movie themed burlesque revue, The Stripteaser, featuring himself, Jo “Boobs” Weldon, Fancy Feast, Bastard Keith, Fem Appeal, Patrick Davis, and Polly Wood. It’s duly hilarious and we will be going back to see it again with all the bells and whistles tomorrow night. You should too! Info and tickets are here. 

Next we ate large piles of food at Phebe’s (without an “o”, never put an “o”), where we ran into performer Ione Lloyd, on her way to something at New York Theatre Workshop, I think she said.

Whereas, we were on our way to LaMama, for the launch event for their new downstairs theatre space. If I am counting correctly this is their fourth playing space, essentially a blackbox (in this case a brick box), brand spanking new and shiny on their basement level. Congrats to them! For an institution to still be vibrant and growing at this age! We saw artistic director Mia Yoo, producing director Beverly Petty, Cathy Shaw from the box office, and:

Nicky Paraiso of the Club at La Mama, and Linda Chapman, Associate Artistic Director at NYTW

Nicky Paraiso of the Club at La Mama, and Linda Chapman, Associate Artistic Director at NYTW


Kids’ Art!


Then finally, the climax of the evening, Mad Jenny and the Society Band’s debut at Pangea.   I had the terrifying realization last night that I have known, admired and worked with this performer for almost NINE years. Where that time went, I have no idea, but I felt like I saw it all in her performance last night, ideas she has been talking about and planning and trying out here and there over a long period — with this show as the glorious culmination.

With her beautiful singing voice, her clown training, her command of German, and her sharp sophisticated mind, this is a show only SHE could have put together (with her collaborators of course, but who but she could star in this act?).  It’s almost all Berlin cabaret material, by the likes of Brecht, Weill, Eisler and many others. Because her command is so encyclopedic and curated with such vision and focus the repertoire is much more esoteric than the usual “Weimar’s greatest hits” approach most performers tend to take when they attempt this kind of material. The one tune I knew was the “Barbara Song” from Threepenny, although in a different translation from the one I know best (the from the 1954 Broadway production.) Oh yes and she threw in a Eurythmics song which I vaguely recognized. I won’t tell you what she does with props in the show, because that would spoil lots of wonderful surprises, but among the many treats on the song list is a gay-pride anthem from 1921 called “The Lavender Song”, a 1928 abortion song, and a great feminist number from 1931 called “Chuck All the Men”. It’s not all political, but these stuck out — they’re almost a century old….and wow, they still need to be sung, a fact which is stunning, and damning.  But, really, the show was all highlights. When it was over, no one wanted to stop clapping or even let her go. She got two encores, and really the audience still wanted more after that. She’s already got more shows booked, but something tells me a proper long run will be in order once word gets around. People will want to see this and see this again. I would gladly go again already! To get more info on Mad Jenny and her upcoming shows go here. 

Still Time to Get in on the Acting Class for Comedians

Posted in BROOKLYN, Comedy, Indie Theatre with tags , , , on September 25, 2015 by travsd



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