Archive for Penny Arcade

Longing Lasts Longer

Posted in CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, CULTURE & POLITICS, Indie Theatre, Women with tags , , , , on May 26, 2015 by travsd


What was the climax to my Memorial Day? I might say mourning or remembering a lost New York, but that’s only a half truth, for Penny Arcade’s new work-in-progress Longing Lasts Longer is only partially that…ultimately I’d call it a call to arms from a bona fide cultural warrior. We’re New Yorkers. We don’t just lay down and die!

If you’ve read my earlier interviews (here and here) you have some idea of the content of the new work. Live and in person, the piece is very much an elaboration on the things she spoke about when we talked, with lots more to boot. It’s kind of like a TED Talk for bohemians and anarchists, backed by a soundtrack of relevant tunes (the ones Scorsese might choose), and some kickass writing (when she gets rolling I hear echoes of Whitman and the Beats), plus evangelical style preaching. At certain points when the rapture takes over, she just dances. She dances — how do they say in West Side Story? “Like [they] gotta get rid of something.”

I won’t shut up about this show because I think she’s on to something. What she is saying strikes a chord. This is not just the right message for the right moment, but it’s brave — which means she’s the only one daring to send this message. And swimming against the tide is exhausting. This is America! Who DARES attack the young? To attack the young is to declare yourself old. Everyone in America is TERRIFIED to do this, to the point of absurdity, to the point of sickness. You think I’m kidding?

Look at Marlo Thomas, who will be turning 80 in two years:


And Marie Osmond, aged 55:


I don’t say these women ought to look like my teachers looked at those ages back in the 1970s, with mustaches and reeking of Lanacane. But they certainly oughtn’t to look like the STUDENTS looked back in Junior High School. And everyone knows this isn’t how these women actually look; it’s a triumph of the embalmers’ art. These ladies are obviously terrified anyone will get the idea they’re older than 24 years old.

Penny’s piece isn’t really about this, by the way. Nor is she afraid of her cleavage, either (see above). But my point is she also doesn’t pretend her career didn’t start in 1969… and (heresy of heresies) she says her actual age! Out loud! In public!

Anyway, at bottom, the conflict she describes isn’t really between old and young, but between urban and suburban. It’s just that young people just HAPPEN to be the ones dragging this culture and this city down into a morass of conservatism and proto-fascism.

Yeah, I said dat!

The takeaway thoughts she leaves you with at the end are Joy, Gratitude and Authenticity. But with authenticity she really gets at the crux of it. What is the famous New York “rudeness” but being honest to a fault? Saying what you think, and not sugar-coating it? People seem so terrified of this nowadays.

Do you know that the theatre critics of this town used to be a sort of platoon of berzerkers? They wrote to entertain and they also cared deeply about the theatre, so the newspaper critics of this town, oh, people like George S. Kaufman, Dorothy Parker and Alexander Woolcott (I honestly don’t give a fuck how you spell it) brought their famous wits to bear and took no prisoners. That was another day at the office. When I get goin’ I try to emulate them, and on those occasions when I let ‘er rip, you can generally cut the atmosphere of terror and unease with a knife. Not because I wasn’t very nice, but because I had the effrontery to be a drag! And that simply isn’t done!  It’s so unhip to be a “hater.”

Hey screw that.  I just learned I ‘m related to John Adams, and I’m going to go with his famously brusque manner as a family trait. We don’t need any more cheerleaders for mediocrity in this town. It’s sinking to that level fast enough without encouragement. Let’s get back to telling the truth, shall we? Let’s do it precisely because it SUBVERTS the protocols of marketing. This is the point, I think. If you can free yourself from the cradle to grave drumbeat of pre-chewed marketing messages, only then will you have earned the ownership of that very unique organ you carry around behind your eyes and under your wig.

Its early days in the development of Longing Lasts Longer. There are two more performances at Joe’s Pub and Penny said last night she may add some New York performances before she heads off to Edinburgh and London and then she will probably bring it back here for a proper open-ended run. When she does, I’m telling ya — this piece merits a NY Times feature, above the fold, in the Arts section. Penny Arcade’s got her fingers on the pulse of this ailing town.

Penny Arcade: The Excerpts

Posted in Burlesk, CULTURE & POLITICS, Drag and/or LGBT, Indie Theatre, PLUGS, Women with tags , , , , , , on May 18, 2015 by travsd


As we promised in our earlier piece on Penny Arcade, we here share some of the other things we discussed that didn’t make it into my Chelsea Now/ Village piece:

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. 

My Interview with Penny Arcade

Posted in CULTURE & POLITICS, Indie Theatre, ME, PLUGS with tags , , , , , , on May 14, 2015 by travsd


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:

This Week: Trav, Dick Cavett, Penny Arcade and Harpo’s Son, etc!

Posted in Comedy, Comedy Teams, Marx Brothers, ME, My Shows, PLUGS with tags , , , , , on April 29, 2014 by travsd


Yeah, baby! Marxfest launches this week and there’s so much to tell about!


Tomorrow, April 30 at 3pm, listen to me, talk-show legend Dick Cavett, Harpo’s son Bill Marx and my Marxfest cohorts Noah Diamond and Kevin Fitzpatrick on the Halli Casser-Jayne Show. We’ll be talking up Marxfest of course, and the four (actually five) crazy brothers who inspired this month long tribute. We are honored to have Messers. Cavett and Marx as participants in the festival. Want to learn more? Don’t be a fink, just follow this link:


Also tomorrow, the new edition of Time Out New York hits the stands. In it will be a short piece plugging my program this Friday:

May 2, 7:30pm
From Angels to Anarchists: The Evolution of the Marx Bros
Coney Island USA
It’s a matter of published record that Harpo Marx first joined his family on stage at Henderson’s Music Hall, just a few dozen yards from Coney Island USA. What a lot of people don’t know is that the Marx Brothers’ family act initially started out as a SINGING group called the Four Nightingales. In From Angels to Anarchists, I will talk about how the act evolved from young Groucho’s initial outings as a child performer, through the act’s many iterations, until they finally became the mad-cap, no-holds-barred comedy team the world knows and loves. Along the way there will be performances of some of the act’s early material, and scatological details about Harpo’s debut at Henderson’s. The talk will have a performance component as well, three of the songs from the early Marx Brothers repertoire sung by Sarah Moskowitz!

What else?

You can learn more about Marxfest in this terrific Indie Theatre Now podcast featuring myself, Noah Diamond and Jonny Porkpie in conversation with the illimitable Martin Denton:

And check out our great recent coverage in The New York Times and Newsday.  

For the complete scoop on Marxfest, visit

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