A View from the Bridge (and Tunnel)
It's About Time in Queens, Spic Chic in the Bronx, and Tupperware Orgy in Brooklyn
The play revolves around a character named Bang, who, after a failed relationship, searches for his purpose in life through a self-help program called "The Praxis of IT." IT's teachings compel him to draw up a complex schedule in order to maximize every second of his day, and he videotapes himself to track his progress. Bang becomes so obsessed with his routine that he loses touch with his humanity. The only fun activity that he allows himself is bowling -- which he does compulsively -- because there's a measurable result.
What exactly is this "Praxis of IT" that takes over Bang's life in such a way? Bernstein obliquely answers, "I think IT is sort of a universal IT. IT can be whatever you deem IT to be." Anybody who talks on a cell phone while riding an elevator or cooks dinner while doing laundry can relate to Bang's compulsion. "I think we've all sort of adopted Bang's persona," Bernstein asserts. "We are so conscious of wasting time, maximizing our time, scheduling, and planning."
In its early days, the Confluence Theater Company resembled the main character of It's About Time: "We were so focused on production and placing these deadlines on ourselves," says Bernstein. "It wasn't satisfying and we weren't doing the work that we wanted to do, so we made the decision that we wanted to become process-oriented rather than product-oriented." The founding members then started reaching out to various artists in the Queens area, including musicians, composers, visual artists, and dancers.
Around the same time, the Confluence people met Brian Rogers, who runs The Chocolate Factory, and he invited them to perform in a works-in-progress festival that he was producing. According to Bernstein, "It was the first time that we could focus on the artistic work and leave the administration to someone else." Somebody from the Queens Council on the Arts saw that production, encouraged the company to apply for funding, and they were given a grant. "To have the support of taxpayer dollars and the community feels really good," says Bernstein. "It makes you feel that you're doing the work for someone other than yourself."
If former media mogul turned performance artist Luis Chaluisan is half as entertaining on stage as he is over the phone, there's every reason to see his show Spic Chic at the Ibiza nightclub in Riverdale. Let the man talk to you for a half hour about his life and he'll make Jack Kerouac look like Emily Dickinson. Don't be surprised if, during the course of his show, you hear about his interview with former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, his adventures salsa dancing in a German opera house, and a television exposé that almost led to his having a violent run-in with a grand wizard of the Klu Klux Klan. (In an interview published in the New York Daily News, this international man of mystery was quoted about his association with Chiapas rebels in Mexico!)
Although Chaluisan is well traveled, he now spends most of his time in the North Bronx -- where he was raised -- with his New Edge Theater company, working on shows that combine music, dance, poetry, and storytelling. His current show consists of autobiographical monologues drawn from his ocean of experiences, sliced up into a combustible cabaret inspired by such luminaries as Miguel Piñero, Charles Ludlum, Georg Buchner, Richard Pryor, Serge Diaghilev, and Pedro Pietri (the recently departed co-founder of Nuyorican Poet's Café). The performances at Ibiza change every night; later this month, a more fixed version of the show will move into the Wings Theater in the West Village.
Because of the provocative nature of his shows, certain venues are no longer open to Chaluisan. For example, in the first line of Spic Chic, he says that he never met a drug pusher before he went to Amherst; simply mentioning narcotics has cost him some gigs, even though the line is about the irony of a North Bronx resident encountering rampant drug use for the first time at an Ivy League college. ("Spanish culture is very conservative," he points out.) A self-described "creative anarchist," Chaluisan has a conservative side, too. During our interview, he deplored the excesses of commercial hip-hop; in Spic Chic, he goes into this in greater detail.
If you can't make it to Ibiza or the Wings Theater, be sure to check out Chaluisan's website, which he regularly updates with clips of new performances. The site also currently includes a tribute to his friend Pedro Pietri.
"We've got a strange little junta going on over in Williamsburg," says John DeVore, whose Tupperware Orgy is currently running at The Brick. The play begins innocently enough with four women, who live in the same apartment building, chatting about their failing relationships over a bottle of Jack Daniels. Two of them are a lesbian couple, one of whom wants to call it quits because a velvet picture of Jesus tells her that her relationship is a sin.
DeVore throws in a murderous subplot that's partly inspired by the story of Richard Speck, a serial killer of the 1960s who attacked several nurses with an icepick. According to legend, Speck was only caught because one of his would-be victims escaped and recognized him when he was seeking treatment at a hospital. "That horrified me," DeVore says, "and it seemed to crystallize the brutality of the masculine world." Along with the serial killer narrative, the playwright also mines Euripides' The Bacchae: "I always found the Greeks interesting because they had a healthy fear of women and a respect for them, too."
It might not surprise the reader to learn that DeVore is an editor of Maxim, the magazine with such columns as "Girlfriend of the Day." "It always bothered me that you can't be sensitive and intelligent and still appreciate women," he says. "There's a fine line between appreciation and objectification." Indeed, the press release for Tupperware Orgy describes the piece as "a feminist play for chauvinist pigs." In addition to his latest, DeVore has written such plays as Soccer Moms and Martian Holiday, both of which were performed at The Brick. He got involved with the company when he met artistic director Michael Gardner while working at the New York International Fringe Festival's annual theater review magazine. (DeVore also wrote for TheaterMania during the website's first year.)