Archive for the Indie Theatre Category

Valentine’s Day is for Fickle Mistresses

Posted in Indie Theatre, ME, My Shows, PLUGS with tags , on February 13, 2015 by travsd
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Caricature of Adah Isaacs Menken from during her Paris engagement. “Dada” which we all know means “nonsense”, also means “hobby horse” (which is how it came to mean “nonsense”.) Long story short — this is a dirty joke. Learn the full extent of that joke at Horseplay – -bring your valentine!

Now tell me true — would you rather start performances of your intricate, ambitious new spectacle on Friday the 13th, or would you prefer to do so on a day of candy, hearts and flowers, the annual international celebration of LOVE? I thought so! Thus, we feel a slight adjustment to our schedule becomes fortuitous.

First day of previews for Horseplay is now tomorrow, Valentine’s Day:  A PERFECT VALENTINE’S DATE!

Furthermore, check out of this amazing advance press, for which we thank our lucky stars.

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* This terrific NY Times feature on star Molly Pope (and Horseplay) officially hits the stands Sunday, but an online version is already available. Read it here. 

* This equally great piece in L Magazine. Read that here: http://www.thelmagazine.com/2015/02/neo-trouper-interview-molly-pope/

* Here’s Chelsea Now’s ticket giveaway contest: http://chelseanow.com/2015/02/win-horseplay-or-the-fickle-mistress/

* And we also got a listing in Time Out New York which is no longer the slam dunk it used to be, now that the mag’s grown thinner — it’s an honor not to be taken lightly:

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How and where to get your tickets: http://lamama.org/horseplay/

The Listeners

Posted in CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, EXPERIMENTAL & MUSICAL THEATRE, Indie Theatre, LEGIT with tags , , , on February 11, 2015 by travsd

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We found ourselves very much stimulated by Matthew Freeman’s The Listeners (directed by Michael Gardner) at The Brick last night. An extended meditation on the challenges of communication, it projects a future in which that necessary survival skill has fatally deteriorated. A house full of people are all sundowning, uncertain from one moment to the next if they’ve already said what they’re about to say, what their words mean, if anyone has heard them, who they are in relation to one another, or even if they’re talking to themselves. (I could certainly see an interpretation of this play in which the entire thing is in the head of a single character).

The ordeal of the characters (ranging from hilarious to heart-rending) is conveyed to us by a uniformly excellent cast who seize on this acting challenge like dogs with soup bones. Their situation is vague; the cause of their apocalypse comes to us in small snatches, and we never experience it directly. But it seems to have robbed the characters of the ability to think straight for more than a few seconds at a time. Among the consequences is an inability to feed themselves. If we don’t communicate, we don’t cooperate, and if we don’t cooperate, we can’t live. Seems basic enough, but as Freeman’s play seems to suggest, we seem to be doing everything in our power to erode our ability to truly communicate (or concentrate or think straight) all the time. In fact, writing now, I am typing this to you on a memory robbing device, and you will quickly zip away from it to look at a cat picture or something. I do not judge. I am a Naked Emperor in a Glass House Next Door to a China Shop Inhabited by My Twin Brother, a Bull Who Throws Stones.

The feeling of separation in The Listeners is enhanced by the fact that in this production, audience members watch the action through peepholes in the wall…hidden spectators watching our own disintegration from what seems like a safe distance. But make no mistake: the people in there are US.  We are The Listeners.

These are my take-aways, my OWN ones and I make no claim that they are definitive or even what Freeman and Gardner remotely intend. This is a piece of impressionistic theatre, poetic and elusive. In fact, the vaguer it was, the better I liked it (those few places where the characters got close to defining their situation were definitely the few passages I would have erased out of the script). This was a thought-provoking piece of theatre. Add it to the recent production of Bonedive Scrounger and the upcoming The Temple (which we saw in an earlier reading and look forward to seeing the full production of in a couple of weeks) and it equals a goddamn exciting entire SEASON of theatre. More! Much more work like this, please!

The Listeners will be at the Brick through February 14. And though I highly recommend that you see this play — not on Valentine’s Day. Your loved one will never forgive you. Tickets and info here: http://www.bricktheater.com/

The Horse Play Begins on Friday!

Posted in Indie Theatre, ME, Melodrama and Master Thespians, My Shows, PLUGS with tags , , , , on February 9, 2015 by travsd

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I feel like an expectant mother whose water is about to break. This week is a climax of sorts, a moment of truth (even as we celebrate artifice).

On Friday we begin previews of Horseplay a play I’ve been working on (off and on) for about fifteen years. Work in earnest began about four years ago when Tim Cusack of Theatre Askew commissioned its completion, and brilliant director Elyse Singer came aboard. We’ve workshopped the hell out of it, winnowed it down from an original six hour length (it was originally written as a six episode serial), shaped it, honed it, and brought on the most talented collaborators we could find to bring it to life.

In some ways it also feels like a kind of culmination of all I have been working on for the past 25 years. It is a love poem not only to its subject, 19th century actress Adah Isaacs Menken, but to the theatre itself, to vaudeville and burlesque and melodrama, dialect humor, drag, quick-change, the bio-pic and musical comedy…and to one of my artistic heroes, Charles Ludlam, Father and Mother of the Ridiculous Theatrical Company. That Ludlam’s partner and heir apparent Everett Quinton is part of this production is a dream come true, as is the fact that we premiere this play in LaMaMa’s Ellen Stewart Theatre, or as I like to call it “The Big Room”. That, too, is something I have been working toward for 25 years. Even if we crash and burn like Icarus, we’ll have done so, like Icarus, by way of our proximity to the sun.

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Why Menken? Adah Isaacs Menken was one of the few public figures to boldly swim against the tide of Victorianism (though even she was a creature of her times). She is kind of bridge figure between Lola Montez and Lotta Crabtree: the diva of her times, an early sex symbol, an important poet, a Bohemian, a wild west saloon star and a thousand things more. Theatrical from the cradle to the crave, there is an elusive quicksilver aspect to her identity. Of Creole New Orleans stock (hence part African American) she was at various times in her life also a Jew, a Confederate sympathizer, a dutiful Victorian wife, and a practical example of the Doctrine of Free Love. She was married five times. At least two of her husbands were famous: James Heenan, the champion bare-knuckle boxer of his day; and Robert Newell, better known as Orpheus C. Kerr, who along with Mark Twain and Artemus Ward (another of my pet subjects) was one of the fathers of American humor (she was friends with Twain and Ward, and just about every other literary figure of the time as well). Her lovers included Cuban poet Juan Clemente Zenea, Alexander Dumas, and Algernon Swinburne (to name just a few of the famous ones). She attempted suicide twice and died at the pitifully young age of 33, with Longfellow at her bedside (a weird twist, since her mentor and intimate had been Whitman). On stage, she was most famous for her so-called Protean (male drag) roles, especially the lead character in an adaptation of Byron’s Mazeppa, which required her to do dangerous onstage stunts on horseback (a skill she acquired in her circus days). You can see perhaps why this material has been of interest to me.

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Who to play this apparently supernatural creature? In 2012, we were blessed to line up Molly Pope, twice named one of Time Out New York’s Top Ten NYC cabaret acts, a kind of reincarnation of the young Streisand, mixed with Merman, and all those larger-than-life brassy theatrical animals of the 1930s and 40s, like Crawford, Davis and Stanwyck.  (I’m not the only one who thinks Molly Pope walks on water, or I’d never go out on a limb like this. She is a presence and One To Be Watched.) Her most recent show was the musical hit Found at the Atlantic Theater.  In Horseplay I think you will agree that finally there is someone in show business who works harder than James Brown.

But astounding as she is, this is an ensemble show, and while Molly is on stage practically every second of the play, she is playing with an expert ensemble cast, much like ‘Trane might play with his Quartet. They are:

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The aforementioned, legendary Mr. Quinton, who plays George Sand and many other characters. If you are not from New York or are too young to know about the seminal Ridiculous Theatrical Company, you may perhaps remember Everett as the psycho prison guard (inspired by Hume Cronyn) in the 1994 film Natural Born Killers. I’ve learned volumes just by being around him.

"Psycho Therapy" Off-Broadway Cast Photo Call

Jan Leslie Harding is a veteran of Broadway and won the 1990 Best Actress OBIE for her role in Mac Wellman’s Sincerity Forever. You can also see her in Hal Hartley’s brilliant 1997 film Henry Fool. The playful, hilarious Jan plays New York Bohemian Ada Clare and sundry other roles in her inimitable sprightly fashion.

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Tim Cusack is the co-founder and artistic director of Theatre Askew, producer of this show, and he plays the roles of Algernon Swinburne, Walt Whitman et al. I’ve known Tim since the late ’90s when I saw him in the 19th century melodrama Ten Nights in a Bar-Room, directed by Ian W. Hill at the old Todo Con Nada. And you know what? He uses the same Irish accent in this show!

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I’ve been a fan of Chuck Montgomery’s ever since I saw him in Elyse Singer’s revival of Mae West’s Sex back in 1999. He’s got a ton of film and tv credits, such as the Hal Hartley movies Henry Fool and Fay Grim (2006). The Mad Marchioness and I catch him on tv all the time: we’ve seen him on The Sopranos, Law and Order and most recently Orange is the New Black. Chuck plays the crucial role of Frank Queen (a kind of Jiminy Cricket and Yoda to Adah Isaacs Menken), plus many other roles (and not only that, the banjo!)

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Young Tiffany Abercrombie holds her own and then some with the veterans enumerated above. I won’t have to tell you to keep an eye on her when she is on stage; you’ll simply do it. Her animated, expressive face and her comic instincts remind me of Lucille Ball and Imogene Coca. With unerring instinct she jumps in and does it with 100% commitment. She’s been a regular cast member of Sleep No More and studied at NYU and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. We are fortunate to have her play Alexander Dumas, and numerous other roles.

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Most recent to join our cast is Mark St Cyr , whom as heavyweight boxer and Menken husband John C. Heenan is the designated male heart-throb of the cast — I’ve already had both males and females say, “Who’s THAT guy???” In addition to his fine dramatic acting chops (of his many roles in the play, my favorite is his interpretation of 19th century Shakespearean ham James Murdock), like the rest of the cast he reveals a multiplicity of skills in his many ensemble parts.

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What else do we got?

* We’ve got great music (much of it original) by William T.N. Hall, including several new songs (for which I wrote the lyrics) and some traditional ones!

* We’ve got numerous dances, choreographed by Antonio Brown! 

* We’ve got sword fights, staged by Nathan DeCoux!

As I said, previews begin Friday, February 13; the official opening night is Monday the 16th. We run through March 1. For tickets and more information, go here: http://lamama.org/horseplay/

And if you don’t come to this, I’ll take it a certain sign, unmistakable and incontrovertible, that you hate me and want me to die!

“Women of the Wind” Opens Tonight

Posted in Hollywood (History), Indie Theatre, Movies, PLUGS, Women with tags , , , , , on February 5, 2015 by travsd

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Barbara Kahn’s new play Women of the Wind opens tonight at Theater for the New City. It’s about the behind-the-scenes struggles of three women associated with the production of the 1939 MGM film Gone With the Wind:  Butterfly McQueen, Ona Munson, and Alla Nazimova. Barbara actually worked with Butterfly McQueen! I’ve got to hear more about that. For more information and to get your tickets, go here.

Nelson Lugo’s “Gathering the Magic” is Back

Posted in Contemporary Variety, Indie Theatre, Magicians/ Mind Readers/ Quick Change, PLUGS with tags , , , on January 30, 2015 by travsd

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Of Byron and Mazeppa (and Our New Play)

Posted in BOOKS & AUTHORS, Indie Theatre, Melodrama and Master Thespians, PLUGS with tags , , , on January 22, 2015 by travsd
Lord Byron, Affecting the Native Costume of the Albanians

Lord Byron, Affecting the Native Costume of the Albanian

Today is the birthday of George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824). Two years ago we wrote about his comical epic poem Don Juan, which is now one of our favorite pieces of literature. Today, we write about the reason we found ourselves re-reading Don Juan in the first place (I’d first read it when I was about 19). The reason is that our current project can trace its original roots back to Byron’s 1819 poem Mazeppa. 

By the standards of his epics, Mazeppa is just a little scrap of a thing. It was originally published with another little scrap called A Fragment, often called the first vampire story, which we wrote about here.  Like many of his generation, Byron was entranced with the notion of all things “Eastern”. Mazeppa (based on popular legends) concerns a Ukrainian gentleman who is punished for an improvident love affair by being lashed naked to a horse, with the horse being set loose into the wild, resulting in all sorts of tortures for the hapless victim. In Byron’s poem, the tale is told first person by the now elderly Mazeppa, still a soldier.

Vernet's Interpretation

Vernet’s Interpretation

Byron’s poem was extremely popular in its day, so much so that it inspired other poems on the subject (Hugo, Pushkin), numerous paintings by artists like Gericault, Delacroix, Vernet and Currier and Ives, and pieces of music (Lizst). It was bound to make its way to the theatre. The first stage version premiered in Paris in 1825; by 1861 it had migrated to the United States in a cobbled together, hilariously pretentious version by a hack named H.M. Milner which bears little resemblance to Byron’s original, aside from the sadistic spectacle of Mazeppa’s involuntary ride. The biggest star to ever play the role (in fact, she was to become permanently associated with it) was none other than Adah Isaacs Menken (a female in male drag)- – the subject of our new play, produced by Theatre Askew. 

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And we re-create a (burlesqued) version of Mazeppa’s ride in the show, thus as we said at the top, the kernel of our show begins with Byron. Menken adored Byron, by the way, and for a time, the cross-dressing cutie even dressed like him and cut her hair short to resemble his.

Learn more about this all-star show and how you can help bring it to fruition here. 

Helen of Troy, New York

Posted in Broadway, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Indie Theatre with tags , , , , , , , on January 19, 2015 by travsd

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The Mad Marchioness and I had an unseemly amount of jollity at Medicine Show’s revival of the 1923 musical Helen of Troy, New York.

This show has long been a missing puzzle piece in my Broadway history education, as I’m sure it must be for yours, as the show has been buried for nearly a century. Like a surprising number of theatre works by famous writers, this show has never been published or revived or filmed or otherwise available, aside from references in old newspapers. But this is among of the earliest shows of all its key collaborators, playwrights George S. Kaufman and Marc Connelly and songwriters Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby. The curious and intrepid who make the trek all the way to the extreme west side to check it out will encounter a show full of funny lines and clever situations, and typically high grade Kalmar-Ruby songs.  It’s essentially a re-telling of the Trojan war set at two competing collar manufacturers. Helen is a girl who worked for one concern, then was “stolen” by the other. A young executive, the son of one of the CEOs) wants to marry her, but the father wants him to marry the daughter of the CEO of the other company, so they can merge. Then there is a lot of satire about big business, and advertising and fashion and male modelling and so forth. And above all, great Kalmar/ Ruby rhymes…

No one/ could go un/ concerned about you

You are/ what few are

and of course

joy/ boy/ Troy

If you know Medicine Show you know and accept the drill. This is basically community-theatre level production. Dancers are not in sync; singers are not in tune; actors go up on lines and bump into furniture; costumes are period inappropriate, ill-fitting and in some cases torn; and the furniture doesn’t match. But it’s a company I’ll always return to from time to time for the simple reason that (much like other favorite companies like Metropolitan Playhouse and the Mint, though those companies produce at a much higher professional level) they exhume these rarities — often important rarities. (Their version of Helen of Troy, New York is “reconstructed”, by the way. That’s okay, so was I’ll Say She Is!)

Helen of Troy, New York is playing through February 15. The morbidly curious may get their tickets here. 

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