Volume 20, Number 38 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | February 2 — 8, 2011
Photo by Kirsten Kay Thoen
Getting Ready to “Purge”: Jillian Lindig (top) and Larisa Polonsky (bottom).
Tennessee, TNC and a famous BOB
Theater thrives, thanks to the late Ellen Stewart
BY TRAV S.D.
I started out the new year with a veritable junket of show going, most of which pleased my cantankerous taste buds. The sole exception was “Gob Squad’s Kitchen” — an empty interaction between a handful of hipster improv comedians and the static mid-60s films by Andy Warhol’s Factory. If there was an idea to be found in this tedious exercise, I’ll eat my Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat. Other than that, though, I pretty much hit the jackpot — catching “Spalding Gray: Stories Left to Tell” at P.S. 122 (featuring a surprise visit from David Strathairn); “Too Late!” in the Under the Radar Festival; “Green Eyes,” an obscure, late Tennessee Williams one-act presented in a midtown hotel room; Theater for the New City’s “Age Out” (about some unhappy waitstaff); and “The Continuing Story of Carla Rhodes” — an autobiographical rock opera presented monthly at Arlene’s Grocery by a multitalented ventriloquist. All recommended. Either someone has put mood enhancers in my Yoo-hoo or I’m walking under a lucky constellation.
The major news to report this month is the sad passing of Ellen Stewart, founder and artistic director of La MaMa E.T.C. The theatre she founded turns 50 years old this year, and the Off Off Broadway movement she helped launch is stronger than ever. Indeed, most of the showfolk who generally wind up in this column owe something to her. She will be missed, but her legacy is ubiquitous. Several shows happening at her theatre this month strike me as particularly exciting. February 3-13, award-winning puppeteer Theodora Skipitares presents her own version of Aristophanes’ “Lysistrata,” mixed with “actual present-day accounts of sex strikes.” Why, it’s un-American! In addition to masks and body suits inspired by ancient Roman circus comedians, the production boasts the music of way out experimentalist Sxip Shirey. Also of note is “Purge.” The American premiere of a #1 best seller in Finland, it tells the story of a couple of Estonian women forced to make choices as the country makes the tough transition from totalitarian communism to criminal capitalism. Finnish-Estonian playwright Sofi Oksanen was “Estonia’s Person of the Year” in 2009 and is hailed in her country as one of the most important voices of her generation. The show promises to be an important cultural event. It runs February 11-20. Also this month at La MaMa, the movement ensemble Witness Relocation presents the premiere of a new work featuring text by playwright Chuck Mee. The content is unclear but the personnel is impressive. The show runs from February 17 through 27. For info on these and all shows at La MaMa, go to lamama.org.
Meanwhile, across the street at Horse Trade Theater Group, it is time once again for that company’s annual and (aptly named at the moment) Frigid New York Festival (February 23–March 6). Smaller in scale than most of the summer theatre festivals, Frigid New York substitutes quantity for quality, priding itself on a well-run machine featuring 30-odd shows at its three-space the Kraine, the Red Room and Under St. Marks. Standouts this year to these jaded old eyes include: “The Bitter Poet: Looking for Love in All the Wrong Black Box Performance Spaces” starring the hilarious leather-clad Downtown performance veteran Kevin Draine; “My Pal Izzy: The Early Life and Music of Irving Berlin”; “Hi, How Can I Help You?” — which shows how a house of domination copes with the Great Recession; “Yippie!” (about the eponymous radical political party which once ran a pig for President); and “You Shouldn’t Be Here” by self-described “mock star” Killy Dwyer. For a full schedule and ticket info, go to FRIGIDnewyork.info.
We seem to be somewhat in the midst of a Tennessee Williams revival at the moment, as directors and producers exhume countless obscure works ignominiously scorned in the genius playwright’s lifetime. Not only has there been the above-mentioned production of “Green Eyes” by director Travis Chamberlain, but last year saw an entire festival of such works by Target Margin, as well as a series of revivals by White Horse Theatre Company, and the film version of “The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond.” And, now, of all people, Elizabeth LeCompte will be directing the late Williams play “Vieux Carrè” with her company the Wooster Group, running through February. In the this production, this most experimental of ensembles will be taking on an autobiographical work of American realism, concerning Williams’ earliest days as a writer in the New Orleans French Quarter. It’s not the first time the Wooster Group has dared to monkey with a Great American Playwright. They’ve done it with Eugene O’Neill more than once, so the answer to the obvious question “Is nothing sacred?” has already been answered and it’s a flat no. Tickets and info may be obtained at thewoostergroup.org.
In the vaudeville/ burlesque category this month: “Female female-impersonator” World Famous *BOB* will be reviving “One Man Show: The True Story of Miss World Famous *BOB*” at Wild Project, 195 East 3rd Street February 3-5. I caught this show on its original run at Joe’s Pub a few months back, and can testify that it mixes Bob’s patented exhibitionism with revelations of a deeper sort. Find out more at thewildproject.com.
At Clemente Soto Velez Cultural & Educational Center, February 4-20 Flux Theatre Ensemble will be presenting Liz Duffy Adams’ “Dog Act.” While that may sound like a mere circus or vaudeville turn featuring trained poodles, we learn from the release that it’s really one of those post-apocalyptic things, one in which a character undergoes “a voluntary species downgrade.” But, really, aren’t we all doing that at this stage in evolutionary history? Tix and info at fluxtheatre.org.
February 6 through March 6, the Irish Repertory Theatre Company will be presenting “My Scandalous Life” — a play about Lord Alfred Douglas, Oscar Wilde’s lover who indirectly brought about the celebrated author’s downfall. Normally history remembers “Bosie” (his nickname) as a superficial, unfeeling character, but the blurbs about the current show seem to indicate that (in this play at least) there was more to him than that. How true it is, I can’t say, but at least it will be something new! More info: irishrep.org.
Lastly, Theater for the New City’s 8th Annual Love ‘N’ Courage benefit will take place at the National Arts Club on February 28. This year’s guest of honor will be the lovely Marian Seldes, with a wealth of presenting stars from both the Uptown and Downtown theatre scenes, including Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson, Tammy Grimes, Jean-Claude Van Itallie, and many others. A great way to close out an action-packed month, even though this Valentine’s Day-themed event will be two weeks too late for Cupid. See you next month!
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