Archive for the Indie Theatre Category
Unless the news I received about a couple of hours ago is some kind of sick prank, a good friend has passed away.
Dan Jagendorf was as good as they come. In a very short time he became a trusted friend and adviser, the kind of person who would come in and save your bacon time and time and time again, without a word of admonition or complaint. In the most fraught and tense of situations, the extent of his ruffled feathers would be a small, ironic laugh. In my three years or so of getting to work with him off and on I really began to feel that that would have been his reaction to any set-back , any crisis. You’ve been marching through the desert, you’re dying of thirst and the oasis has turned out to be only a mirage? A small shrug – - and keep walking then. Where’s the logic of a big to-do? He was good at what he did, he knew it, and he liked helping people. Also, I think he would have been the first to agree (and admit) that it can be awfully entertaining to watch other people lose their cool.
I first met him at NY Fringe in 2010; he’d long been a pillar and an aid to CR, and he became that to me, as well. The following year he was combination set/prop/lighting designer, production manager and tech director for my vaudeville show in the Fringe Festival. After that, he bailed me out many a time in much the same capacity, most recently our show in in the Burlesque Blitz at the Kraine Theatre last summer.
What’s particularly poignant is that he was working towards a very specific goal, working to get a Masters Degree through a combination of classes at CUNY and City Tech, as though he weren’t already indispensable with his existing skills. Still he was beefing up his resume. He was moving in a definite direction, and now that’s over.
Ultimately, he was just a nice guy to be around. He was dry and funny and pleasant, and (a word that doesn’t get used enough — because it doesn’t exist enough) he was decent. It really hurts to lose someone like that.
The day I met him he was wearing a bicycle helmet and sunglasses with small rear-view mirrors attached — a striking first impression. Subsequently I’ve always pictured him with that gear on his head, because he almost always WAS wearing it. He rode his bike EVERYWHERE. It’s unthinkable to me that he wouldn’t be riding it right now, wherever he’s headed.
Last night I thrilled to brave a Superstorm of Santacon and Snowpocalypse to see Dandy Darkly’s Kiss Beneath the Camel Toe at the new Celebration of Whimsy (or “COW”) Theatre. If I had not done so, it is just the kind of thing I would delight in saying I WOULD do in the abstract. “Dandy Darkly, Carla Rhodes, Jenny Lee Mitchell, Killy Dwyer and the Amazing Amy all in the same show? Why, I’d crawl across the Gobi Desert, legless, on a skateboard, to see that!” One follows such performers like the North Star, across the shifting wastes that intervene. Not a one of them doesn’t bring me delight, like, ALWAYS. They are what gamblers call sure bets.
Last night’s romp was a travesty on the Nativity myth with the illimitable Dandy as God, Carla as Mary, Jenny as an Angel, Killy as “Little Miss Drummer Girl” and Amy as a Camel. Comedy singer/ songwriter Ben Lerman, a performer who is new to me, was Joseph. Oh, and Cecil Sinclair was the Baby Jesus, who unexpectedly turns out to be Adolph Hitler. Each not only played his/ her part, but got a chance at a solo turn in their specialty: Dandy hosting and telling a story, Jenny singing “Papa Don’t Preach” as opera, Amy doing her Indian rubber lady contortions, Killy and Ben doing original funny songs, and Carla of course making Cecil say naughty, naughty things. Done in the approved Art Star manner, the show was loose as a goose, intimate, spontaneous, irreverent and nasty and made me homesick for the old Surf Reality and Collective Unconscious days. Is there a regular home for this kind of show now? One hopes the COW will be that kind of venue. (It is located, by the way, in the Living Theatre’s old space on Clinton Street. One is sorry of course that La Living couldn’t make a go of it, but then their’s was an ambitious operation. It’s hard to pay the bills with experimental theatre. We’ll see what kind of milk the COW gives. I have no idea what that means.)
I’ve attached two pictures above because, though I have looked at about a dozen official photographs of Company XIV’s new holiday show Nutcracker Rouge, NONE adequately conveys the beauty of it. The one on top captures something of the color; the one on bottom gets something of the motion. To get them both, I encourage you strongly to get thee to the Minetta Lane theatre as quickly as possible.
I would call Company XIV my favorite dance company in New York but that would be dishonest. I rarely attend dance, so that wouldn’t be fair to all the hard-working companies out there. But this is my fourth Company XIV production, and their pull on me won’t surprise you in the least once you discover this company’s work. Artistic director and choreographer Austin McCormick draws heavily from history for his inspiration. He is especially interested in the Baroque era, when ballet was young and still populist and sexy, and this is his jumping off point in terms of movement style, scenic and costume design, subject matter (fairy tales and classics), and presentation (unlike the modern ballet, text and song play a role). McCormick trained in this specialty at the Conservatory of Baroque Dance Theatre. See my 2010 article on him in The Villager here. But in maintaining the spirit of that era, he playfully invokes much that came since, mostly movements that echo the decadence of that earlier period, such as the can-can of the Moulin Rouge, and American burlesque.
That’s the background. So if you’re Nutcrackered out, have no fear, this is neither your mother’s nor your daughter’s Nutcracker, but more like a kaleidoscopic, hallucinatory collage that uses Nutcracker as a leaping off point in the vaguest of ways. (The actual ballet The Nutcracker didn’t even come into being until a couple of centuries after McCormick’s favorite time period.) Here the girl Marie Claire (Laura Careless) is given a nutcracker by the Drosselmeyers (Jeff Takacs and Shelly Watson) and then taken through a dream-like fantasia of dances based on sweets: licorice, chocolate, candy cane, cake, macaroon, etc etc. It thus has the structure of a burlesque show, and while each turn is sexy, each also has some amazing additional skill-based element that takes this production into the realm of the dazzling: contortion, acrobalance, trapeze, the playing of castanets, the cracking of whips. This is over and above the beauty of the dances themselves which excite admiration for reasons both aesthetic and athletic.
The Drosselmeyers become ringmasters. Takacs is the company’s traditional narrator. He composes his own droll doggerel in close collaboration with McCormick; onstage he always strikes me as some sort of cross between Charles Perrault and Jim Morrison, with sprinklings of Silenus and de Sade, all cod-pieces and tri-corner hats. The ample and commanding Shelly Watson evokes bordello madams from a dozen eras, and regales us with tunes ranging from lullabies to opera to the blues. Sophie Tucker by way of Versailles. And I assure you it would be madness not to give high praise to set and costume designer Zane Pihlstrom whose command of a thousand Western and “Orientalist” idioms matches McCormick’s own. The show is an explosion of sensory pleasure. (And with sweets as the theme we can add “tasting” and “smelling” to “seeing” and “hearing” on the list of senses attacked; as for “touching”, we live vicariously through the bodies of the dancers.
General audiences will leave the theatre supremely, buoyantly charmed and entertained (the cast received a standing O the night we attended; I’m sure they get one every night). Artists who attend will walk out invigorated and inspired, head full of ideas, determined to hit McCormick’s very high mark of achievement. The beauty part is that this is a company. They have been at this since 2006, and God Willing they will be at it for a good long while to come. So if you miss this particular production (though you’d better not, it’s their best yet), you will most certainly have future opportunities to see their genius in action. I for one intend to follow this company until it — or I — cease to function.
Company XIV’s Nutcracker Rouge will be at Minetta Lane Theatre through January 5. Info and tickets here: http://companyxiv.com/productions/?view=nutcracker-rouge
Very excited to report that our old pal Red Bastard (Eric Davis) is back in town, taking a few days off from his world travels with Cirque du Soleil to tickle and terrify us once again. (Read more about him here).
Here’s dope on his show at the PIT which opens this Friday:
Could this Dangerous, Seductive, Comedy Monster literally change your life?
Experience the madness as this exquisite monstrosity unleashes an absurdly sadistic masterclass where something interesting must happen every 10 seconds. His mission: charm, disarm, shock-and-seduce. His target: you! Anything can happen as Red Bastard lures his students into raw conversation, traps, rewards and catch-22’s – encouraging risk and discovery.
ALSO, THOSE INTERESTED IN EMULATING THE REDNESS IF NOT THE BASTARDY CAN SIGN UP FOR ERIC’S BOUFFON WORKSHOP:
The show was created under the direction of Sue Morrison with continued direction by Deanna Fleysher
Red Bastard is Eric Davis. His unique show has won awards for Most Outrageous Show, Best Solo Performance, Best Theater, Best of Fest and a Community Commitment Award. In 2011, he created the role of Allen Smithee in Cirque Du Soleil’s Resident Hollywood show, Iris. In 2010, Mr. Davis won the Golden Nose for Clown of the Year in New York. In addition, he was a Finalist for theNY Comedy Festival’s Andy Kaufman Award. He looks forward to meeting you
I was delighted to see three different people, all of whom I met separately and through three entirely different connections, all collaborating in Lauren Milberger’s reading for her new play The Raconteurs, A Story of George Burns and Gracie Allen last night. Lauren I’d met because we both contributed essays to the book Playbills to Photoplays: Stage Performers Who Pioneered the Talkies. She is THE go-to person on the subject of Gracie — read her guest-post on the subject for Travalanche here. I was thrilled to see she also DOES an amazing Gracie impression, one of the show’s many highlights. Also in the cast was Jonathan Smith, whom I first met at the Cinema Arts Center in Huntington years ago at a book event for No Applause. His Jack Benny impersonation (and his acting) are spot on. And the proceedings were directed by Allan Lewis Rickman, who had directed Shane Baker’s wonderful The Big Bupkis and appears in Lisa Ferber’s Sisters Plotz web series. I also really enjoyed Kevin Sebastian as George Burns, and Iris McQullian-Grace in several roles.
Small world??? Nah, read John Allan Paulos’s Innumeracy. We’re all old time show biz buffs….hardly a representative sampling of the public at large. So we were all bound to be in the same place at the same time SOME time. (Oh my God, have I become a nerd? Where’s my pocket protector?)
At any rate, this was a developmental reading not a production, so this is not a review, just a report, although I think I can freely say I really enjoyed it.