Jennifer Callahan's preview of one of the best of times Off-Off Broadway.
Spring has officially sprung. In New York, pashmina scarves and bootleg pants have been replaced by sandals and cropped Capris. With the first cold winter in years finally over, an exodus of New Yorkers fleeing the city for country air could seem likely. But something Oscar Wilde wrote over a 100 years ago seems more prescient of New York's appeal: "Nature has good intentions, of course, but, as Aristotle once said, she cannot carry them out...Art is our spirited protest, our gallant attempt to teach Nature her proper place." In the competition to lure theatergoers away from the allergy-rich bucolic settings and into their seats in the city, Off-Off Broadway theaters are once again showing some determination. Their own notion of spirited protest follows.
The wily charms of vaudeville get reincarnated in a new play by C.J. Hopkins called A Place Like This produced by The Present Company at their Theatorium on Stanton Street. "It's so strong, beautiful, and ritualistic and anyone--a Wall St. guy or a person who works in a bakery--can relate to the play," says artistic director John Clancy. "The play talks about the un-nameable, the values we all have, that consciousness, and it's altogether funny and engaging." The show opens in late May.
Some blocks north on First Avenue, Holly Hughes returns to P.S. 122 with Preaching to the Perverted, a show she developed last year at Dixon Place. Hughes, one of the four performance artists whose funds the NEA took back for "reasons of propriety" back in the early 90s, is preaching about the U.S. Supreme Court and the 92nd St. Y. The perverted (and others) can catch Holly at P.S. 122 from late April to late May. Starting April 13 at the venerable avant-garde space, Stefa Zawerucha and David Fritz use light and the work of some of the foremost lighting designers to create an unusual dance piece. Fractured Light runs for ten days; performances with briefer runs at P.S. 122 this spring include Maura Nguyen Donohue accompanied by "righteous babes," Tanya Gagne and Karen Sherman in a girl gang/action movie play, and David Neumann using Appalachian square dances to explore performance.
Over on East 4th Street, La MaMa's plans don't even so much as nod to the changing weather. Ritualistic Greek performance art, accompanied by a five-piece orchestra, The Dream of the Phoenix, takes place in mid-April. And a re-staging of its 1989 production of The Night Before Thinking, a play by Moroccan painter Ahmed Yacoubi scheduled for later in April, shows the breadth of the theater's appetite--the event includes: North African music performed by a live orchestra, projections of Yacoubi's paintings, the plumage of many costumes, and dance.
Multimedia makes another showing at La MaMa in late April to mid May with the opera The Valley of Iao by Lee Nagrin. The piece explores the relationship between Nagrin and her brother, with the sets telling as much of the story as the play. Later in May, Denise Stoklos, the "Meryl Streep of Brazil", continues the international spring flavor in her newest biographical work. La MaMa is also producing What Happened to Me?, a play with many characters which tells the story of a homeless man. For those who like Patricia Highsmith novels, Edgar Oliver's The Drowning Pages--which press representative Jonathan Slaff describes as "a new psycho-sexual poetry play"--should delight, as should the musical The Wound, going up in late May, which concerns the cruel acts of an innkeeper named Maria.
Over on lower Sixth Avenue at HERE, also in May, Kay Ostrenko will perform her one-woman show about her unusual Florida childhood and how consciousness of her race (white) didn't set in until high school. Also at HERE, running through April, Renée Flemings stars in The Bible Belt, a one-woman show about religion, redemption and hair grease in that region of the country.
Reviving a recently successful revival seems like a good idea. So Tennessee Williams fans take note: Small Craft Warnings will be back again in May at the Worth St. Theater. One of his lesser-known plays, Small Craft Warnings takes place at Monk's Place, a shabby bar on the California coast, where the usual Williams-type characters regularly flock. Obie Award-winning actor David Greenspan stars as Quentin. Historical note: when sales were slipping after the show opened Off-Broadway in 1972, Williams appeared on stage to spark interest (but, as of yet, there no rumors of a similar stunt this time around).
Back on the East Side, at the Bouwerie Lane Theatre, the Jean Cocteau Repertory is now staging its version of Euripides' Medea. Medea is the mother who slaughtered her children--for a good reason: the Corinthians would have done it first, in revenge for her killing one of their own. But she had a good reason for that one too. And she's not even from Corinth, where she and her husband Jason, whom she helped win the Golden Fleece, live. Music scored just for this production frames the ancient story with something very contemporary in order to underscore the connection between audience members and characters. Cocteau Rep alternates Medea with Bertolt Brecht's Edward II.
Annie Lanzillotto, performance artist and literature curator at The Kitchen, loves when "theater brings people together." Performers who incorporate video, film and Internet particularly interest her, since they increase possibilities for international connections and "show a fluidity of mind set." One of her favorite examples of theater bringing all kinds of people together is Richard Move, whose Martha at Mother, performed in a small dark club on West 14th Street, showcased visiting dancers like Merce Cunningham, and packed in all kinds of audience members night after night. "Richard Move played Martha Graham impeccably. The show was so tied to him and his personal obsession, and done so well, you had to leave feeling elevated," Lanzillotto says. At the Kitchen in May, Lanzillotto presents Night Light, a public art performance/installation by Ann Carlson. A critically acclaimed artist, Carlson theatricalizes Chelsea and uses dance, voice, sound and visual elements to reveal the history and life of the neighborhood.
And, to reward those who flock to--and not away--from New York over Memorial Day, Theater for the New City is running their fifth-annual Festival of the Arts. For three days, the festival takes over the streets in and around the theater company's home on First Avenue and 10th Street. The spectacle promises to present plays and writers from every community represented in the Lower East Side, from the Ukrainians to the African Americans to the Chinese.