On the rebound from 9/11, downtown theater is buzzing with the beautiful and the bizarre.
"We had to cancel two weekends worth of material," says Mark Russell, executive director of Performance Space 122 in the East Village. "We couldn't get our tech crew in to tech the shows, our e-mail and voicemail went out for two and a half weeks. That was tough. We came back that Friday with a show that had already started. We decided to keep doing it but we basically made it free--whatever you wanted to donate--because we had no way of getting the audience. It was such a strange time."
All of those I♥NY commercials and high profile pleas to "come back to Broadway" that followed the terrorist attacks were wonderful, but Off- and Off-Off Broadway theater is still in trouble if audiences don't start heading back to the fringe soon. Downtown venues like P.S. 122 were hit especially hard, and many theaters, companies, and shows that have long flown below the radar are now in danger of shuttering altogether. With the cold, slow winter months ahead and a recession in full swing, downtown theater needs you now more than ever. And for those who have shied away from the area in recent months, you'll find there is plenty to entice you back.
Downtown is home to the most strange, experimental, and quirky work to be found anywhere. For example: The L.A.-based group Fabulous Monsters makes its New York City debut with a critically acclaimed version of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, now playing at LaMaMa. Speed Hedda, as they call it, is a gender-bending, revisionist take on this classic, set in the 1960s.
Among the many specialties of Off-Off Broadway theater are shows that explore the experiences of people from other countries and cultures. Opening January 10 is Unexpected Journeys, a joint venture of the Immigrants' Theatre Project, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, and The Kasbah Project, which looks at the experiences of women from Muslim cultures. Unexpected Journeys is a festival of news plays by women from Armenia, Australia, Egypt, Nigeria, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and America. There are two full-length plays and several readings in the festival, plus panel discussions and talk-backs; tickets are only $5 for the readings and $15 for the plays. From dramas dealing with female circumcision and arranged marriage to comedies about love, sex, and religion, the works included here cover a wide range of experiences of women from Muslim cultures around the world.
At La MaMa, one of the East Village's most exciting experimental venues, there are two particularly notable offerings in January. Bavel, a multilingual play presented by Jerusalem's Netela Theatre, is based on the stories of Ethiopian Jews who resettled in Israel during the 1970s. Daughter of a Pacifist Soldier, by director/choreographer Tamar Rogoff, is a multidisciplinary work that chronicles the experiences of war veterans through their own words and with the use of music and dance.
During the second half of January, several interesting dramatic and comedic Spanish language plays will be performed at Repertorio Espanol. La Gringa, Vieques, Cronica De Una Muerte (Chronicle of a Death Foretold), and Casa Propia (A House of Our Own) are among the shows playing in rotating repertory at the Gramercy Arts Theatre on East 27th Street.
A couple of rave reviews and some great word-of-mouth can turn a little show into a must-see event that has all of downtown abuzz. Yi Sang Counts To Thirteen was a huge hit at the 2001 Fringe Festival and is now returning to the East Village for a run at the Kraine Theater. Winner of the FringeNYC Excellence for Overall Production Award, the show recreates the bizarre inner world of Korean surrealist writer Yi Sang, known for his strange abstract poetry and darkly funny stories. Seoul mixes with New York, people become colors, and Diet Coke plays a significant role in this series of 20 vignettes exploring a complex love triangle in a world that defies description.
[sic], Melissa James Gibson's new play, has been repeatedly extended due to the stellar reviews it has received during its run at the SoHo Rep. The play is about three city-dwelling young neighbors who form a bond based on suspicion, unrequited love, and loneliness.
Humor of all types may be found beyond Broadway. What you get is usually well beyond the stand-up routines of a typical comedy club, as funny folk give theatrical form to their antics. The Horse Trade Theater Group is presenting a comedy festival throughout the month, with shows playing on Friday and Saturday nights. HA! Comedy Fest is a celebration of sketch, improv, and theatrical comedy that features some of New York's best humorists and troupes. Tickets are $7, or $10 per pair. For the schedule and a rundown of the talent on view, visit Horse Trade's site: www.httheater.org/ha/calendar.html
Mrs. Feuerstein, a new play by Murray Mednick, recently announced a six-week extension due to an overwhelming demand for tickets. It tells the story of a creative writing teacher who, 20 years after World War II, remains obsessed with the enduring pain of the Holocaust and finds her revenge by writing a play about a German couple with whom she works.