curtain call

VOLUME 3, ISSUE 314 | April 1 – 7, 2004

Curtain Call

Tulips and Cadavers Jimmy Camicia, co-founder, artistic director, and chief writer of the gay scene’s internationally applauded Hot Peaches theater troupe has written a new play. “I was writing a play about Jean Genet,” Camicia says, “and discovered that at the end of his life Genet became interested in Rembrandt. He even wrote a paper on him. I couldn’t see the connection. This was so unlike Genet. I was not interested in Rembrandt, but I started looking at these paintings, wanting to know why the hell is this guy so great. What’s so great about him? “Well, what I found out is that if you look at a lot of them, you realize that all his life he’s painting the psyche of his subjects. From just two or three paintings, you wouldn’t notice it, but if you look at lots, it’s always there, always there. “And those faces ? They look like anybody. Anybody on the street anywhere. Your neighbors. People he picked up on the streets. “Then this other thing. He painted Jews as Jews, Jesus as a Semite. Now that interested me,” says Jimmy Camicia. Camicia spent the past two summers researching Rembrandt in Amsterdam. What gives “Tulips & Cadavers” a certain added interest, added complexity, is that Rembrandt and his contemporaries, particularly his women, appear as characters of a play within a play. The three people are a sardonic, demanding, nameless actor-director who’s to play Rembrandt; a high-strung writer-producer-actor named Jean, who assumes all other male and several female roles; and an all-purpose actress-stage manager who in this show portrays a coarse, brassy, generous prostitute named Flora. Doing it as a play within a play enabled him to put Rembrandt’s observations and dialogue into contemporary language, bad words and all, and to point up the differences as well as the similarities between then and now, the 1600s and 2004. As for the homosexual factor? “It has to do with the idea of Rembrandt getting screwed, not in the sexual sense, because Rembrandt himself screwed the maid, screwed everybody, when his wife Saskia died. But in the sense of getting screwed by society. They went after him in a big way—the other artists and the town fathers. He lost his house, lost everything, went bankrupt.” Theater for the New City, 155 1st Ave., 212 254 1109. (J. Tallmer)

FIDDLER ON THE ROOF David Leveaux delivers a cool and distant “Fiddler” that is neat and tidy and runs no risk of offending anyone. To me, the dramatic tension of “Fiddler” has always been between Tevye and God. Tevye is a proud man of strong faith, steeped in tradition, who is forced to reexamine himself, his life, and his beliefs as the world is changing around him. There is a particular poignancy in this as the story is set in 1905, just at the time that the pace of cultural change began to accelerate in ways that take Tevye by surprise. Nothing in his life––that has found such comfort in tradition––has prepared him for the world he is encountering and he is frightened and unprepared. So, he turns to God, as he and his ancestors have always done. Musically, the square, predictable yet rich structure of “Tradition” gives way to looser, more contemporary rhythms and harmonies as the world changes, culminating in “Anatevka,” which counterpoises the rigidity of “Tradition” against an unsettling rhythm that perfectly exemplifies the fear that mixes with faith in trying to hold onto one’s roots while entering a new world. From the pogrom that sounds like the dropping of a bunch of dinner plates to a Tevye who is a pushover, this production never offends, but it never catches fire either. Minskoff Theatre, 200 W. 45 St., 212 307 4100. (C. Byrne)

SMALL TRAGEDY Craig Lucas tells the play-within-a-play story of a six-member cast of actors who rehearse a slimmed-down version of Sophocles’s “Oedipus,” only to find that the play’s themes of disloyalty and vengeance mirror their own self-doubts and misfortunes. Having his characters talk over one another or speak in chopped-up phrases, Lucas goes for a realistic approach that makes the show’s allegorical moments stand out in contrast. When he makes points about American’s blindness to the rest of the world’s problems, it’s clear that his is an “Oedipus” with aspirations beyond this one small stage. Like a typical group of actors, everyone is either gay, bisexual, or open to the idea of experimenting. Lucas likes to keep a sense of mystery in his plays until the last moments, when the elements come together for a heart-stopping ending. The same happens here, and while the final scene is powerful, it seems like it comes from another play entirely. Still, as acted by one of the sharpest ensembles on any stage right now, “Small Tragedy” stands as one of Lucas’s best plays in years. Under the hands of a less self-assured director, this play would drag under the weight of its difficult conversational passages. Here it soars, bringing tragedy to dramatic heights. Playwright’s Horizons, 426 W. 42nd St., 212 279 4200. (E. Piepenburg)

VINCENT In crafting a musical based on the life of Vincent Van Gogh, Robert Mitchell has set a tremendously high bar for himself—to create art from the process of art. The storytelling resources available to Mitchell are limited––what is known about Van Gogh comes mostly from 650 or so letters he wrote to his brother Theo. That limitation tends to give a very narrow perspective and self-involved focus to the narrative. “Vincent” is best described as a chamber musical in which ten actors portray the myriad characters who inhabited Van Gogh’s life. The set is nothing more than a black box and ten stools, and yet director Sturgis Warner manages to evoke a rich world through the use of his company and creative staging. This is certainly a case where less is more. The director’s success results in a visually stunning production that makes a virtue out of simplicity. Those who know Van Gogh’s work will love how his composition of “The Potato Eaters” is reproduced using only stools and gestures. The show is virtually sung through, and the score is both daring and intriguing. Mitchell has a voice of his own, finding a lyricism in harmonies both fresh and rooted in tradition. A score of this nature requires singers of more than exceptional ability, and Mitchell and Warner are blessed in their cast. Of the ten people onstage, every one more than meets the demands of the score and, even more, radiates star quality. Wings Theatre, 154 Christopher St., 212 627 2961. (C. Byrne)

THE MOONLIGHT ROOM Tristine Skyler’s slice-of-life examination of today’s teenagers, wrapped around a story of small-time tragedy––depression, drug abuse, familial spats––is set about a night in the life of teenagers Sal (Laura Breckenridge) and Joshua (Brendan Sexton III) in what has to be the most deserted triage room in New York City. There they discuss the minutia of being a teenager, from rumors of homosexuality to fighting with depressed parents. The two have this unfocused, rambling discussion while waiting for their unseen friend Lightfield to be treated for a drug overdose. When Sal’s mother (Kathryn Laying) and Lightfield’s father (Lawrence James) enter the picture, the teen angst becomes almost unbearable in its languor. The characters talk endlessly about nothing at all, moving the story along with all the swiftness of molasses. Skyler has been praised for having an ear for how teens speak, and that comes through at times, especially during Sal’s conversations with her distant mother. But that’s hardly enough to warrant writing a play this plodding. Beckett Theatre, 330 W. 42nd St., 212 239 6200. (E. Piepenburg)

KING LEAR This story of an ego-driven man fighting against forces outside his control, including the encroaching grasp of the tomb, is a well-known tale. Turning away from love and support, Lear struggles to impose his will on the world—on questions ranging from how he will be treated by his daughters to how he will hold on to the throne—only to lose all in the end. Plummer’s scathingly poignant portrayal of Lear’s descent into madness is not histrionic, but insightful in depicting the inevitable reaction of a mentally ill man lashing out at the collapse of the support structures in his life. Christopher Plummer’s striking performance as the King roundly answers why finely rendered contemporary Shakespeare is still relevant. This is a highly visceral play, a classic Elizabethan revenge tragedy in which nature is the great deliverer of that revenge. One of the great pleasures of “King Lear” is reveling in just how rotten some of these people are, but Director Jonathon Miller has damped it down. “King Lear” is lusty, bawdy and filled with all kinds of violent emotions, but Miller has chosen instead to deliver a production that feels sanitized and bland. Vivian Beaumont Theatre, Lincoln Center, 212 239 6200. (C. Byrne)

BUG Tracy Letts’ new play opens with a desolate Agnes, drinking, smoking, and being bored, in a seedy Oklahoma motel room, where the entire story is set. Agnes, whose ex-husband is in jail and whose son is kidnapped, ekes out a living as a bartender. What money she has is spent on cocaine and liquor. Her lesbian friend R.C. comes over one night with Peter, a drifter, who at first is short on words, but winds up staying. Agnes, after all, is lonely. Agnes’ husband, Jerry, is released from jail and shows up. Agnes and Peter become lovers and she discovers that he believes bugs are eating him and are part of a vast government conspiracy to control humans. Agnes eventually becomes psychotic and delusional herself. This is not a play for the faint of heart, nor for those digesting a full dinner. The bloodletting and graphic violence escalate throughout the play, such as when Peter removes one of his own teeth believing that it contains an egg sac from the aphids implanted in him. Peter also mutilates himself throughout the play, most of it happening offstage and indicated by artfully applied make up. Barrow Street Theatre, 27 Barrow St., 212 239 6200. (C. Byrne)

BIG BILL A.R. Gurney’s historical exploration of the life of seven-time U.S. Open champ Bill Tilden, the first real superstar in tennis is the focus of this play. Tilden was at the top of his game in the 1920s and 30s, and is remembered today by aficionados of tennis as one of its most accomplished players. But he was also twice convicted of having sex with teen boys in the 1940s. In 1953, at the age of 60, he died broke and alone in Hollywood. Gurney seesaws through the events in the life of the mild-mannered Tilden (John Michael Higgins) with mania, from the athlete’s crowd-pleasing matches to his courtroom appearances to his untimely death. Through Gurney’s eyes, Tilden is alternately an angel, a gentleman, a pederast, an actor, a celebrity, and a basket case, often in the same scene. Tilden’s life story, rife with themes of sadness and loneliness common to gay men’s coming-of-age stories of his day, is one the gay community might have a hard time embracing. Gurney sure did, albeit for different reasons, which makes this play a missed opportunity to recover a tragic, but enlightening piece of one gay man’s life. Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center, 150 W. 65th St., 212 239 6200. (E. Piepenburg)

BEAUTIFUL CHILD Nicky Silver’s new play tells the story of a youngish male teacher who retreats to his family for protection and to hide from the consequences of molesting an eight-year-old male student, only to find that such protection comes at an awful cost. Beyond the plot’s shocking central element, “Beautiful Child” is an allegory about power and misplaced trust in which the father represents everything we want to believe in and rely on, only to be shown that daddy is at best venal and at worst corrupt. Silver throws information at us—the mother had a hysterectomy and now doesn’t want to be touched; the father has taken a mistress who hangs around the house refusing to leave and who may or may not be pregnant; the psychiatrist from years ago appears as an acerbic memory—but never makes that information organic to the characters’ interaction. There is rage. There is catharsis. There are some damn funny lines. Yet there really isn’t a play here, and one leaves the theater scratching one’s head wondering what just went on. The Vineyard Theatre, 108 E. 15th St., 212 353 0303. (C. Byrne)

ALICE IN WONDERLAND Bill Osco, the salacious writer/producer/director is back with his first play, an Off-Broadway musical adaptation of 1977’s wicked “Alice in Wonderland,” which re-imagines Alice as a sexual neophyte on a titillating journey of self-discovery and carnal knowledge. This musical comedy is prescribed for “mature audiences” due to “full nudity.” Alice lives with her boozed-up mamma in a trailer park in Weehawken, New Jersey. Wearing a white halter top and skimpy low-rise cut-offs, Alice dreams that a giant Rabbit lures her into his drug-filled domain of iniquity, as she dozes while reading––what else–– “Alice in Wonderland.” In “Wonderland,” all the denizens are oversexed and eager to debauch. The Mad Hatter, whose schlong is even bigger than his top hat, entices Alice to orally pleasure him and the Cheshire “Pussy” is a voracious lesbian. Kirk Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St., 212 239 6200. (D. Kennerley)

AUNT DAN AND LEMON Wallace Shawn’s play challenges us to face our complicity in our government’s aggressions. Narrated by Lemon (Lili Taylor), a Londoner, as a remembrance of her latently lesbian childhood relationship with her parents’ glamorous friend, Aunt Dan (Kristen Johnston), the play jars our comfort philosophically and in its style of presentation. Aunt Dan, “one of the youngest Americans to ever teach at Oxford,” is obsessed with Henry Kissinger. She defends his murderous policies in Vietnam in lusty, comically shocking speeches. Under Aunt Dan’s lingering influence, the grown Lemon, a reclusive with an eating disorder, spends her days reading about, and developing sympathies toward, the Nazis. Putting fascistic philosophies in the mouths of females, Shawn’s uses gender to disenfranchise the audience of its easy notions of aggressive masculinity versus pacifist femininity. Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd St., 212 239 6200. (E. Andrews)

BRIDGE & TUNNEL Creating a show-within-a show, the supremely gifted performance artist Sarah Jones’s latest play is based on a poetry slam in South Queens. In this archly provocative play, Sarah Jones, who is of African, European, and Caribbean descent, plays 14 characters from myriad ethnic backgrounds who recite their poetry or perform soliloquies onstage. Without a trace of sentimentality, the play shows the travails of assimilation and racial intolerance in America, as well as revealing common traits some folks would rather ignore. Jones does not hesitate to play the “green card” to drive home her messages in monologues gleaned from months of interviews with immigrants, many of whom are undocumented, and her own meticulous observations of New Yorkers on the subway. With just a quick change of jacket or hat, Jones slips easily into different roles. She’s got the accents, mannerisms, and phrasing down pat, and her timing is flawless—truly a tour de force. The 45 Bleecker St. Theater, 212 253 9983. (D. Kennerley)

BEAUTIFUL CHILD Nicky Silver’s new play tells the story of a youngish male teacher who retreats to his family for protection and to hide from the consequences of molesting an eight-year-old male student, only to find that such protection comes at an awful cost. Beyond the plot’s shocking central element, “Beautiful Child” is an allegory about power and misplaced trust in which the father represents everything we want to believe in and rely on, only to be shown that daddy is at best venal and at worst corrupt. Silver throws information at us—the mother had a hysterectomy and now doesn’t want to be touched; the father has taken a mistress who hangs around the house refusing to leave and who may or may not be pregnant; the psychiatrist from years ago appears as an acerbic memory—but never makes that information organic to the characters’ interaction. There is rage. There is catharsis. There are some damn funny lines. Yet there really isn’t a play here, and one leaves the theater scratching one’s head wondering what just went on. The Vineyard Theatre, 108 E. 15th St., 212 353 0303. (C. Byrne)

BIG BILL A.R. Gurney’s historical exploration of the life of seven-time U.S. Open champ Bill Tilden, the first real superstar in tennis is the focus of this play. Tilden was at the top of his game in the 1920s and 30s, and is remembered today by aficionados of tennis as one of its most accomplished players. But he was also twice convicted of having sex with teen boys in the 1940s. In 1953, at the age of 60, he died broke and alone in Hollywood. Gurney seesaws through the events in the life of the mild-mannered Tilden (John Michael Higgins) with mania, from the athlete’s crowd-pleasing matches to his courtroom appearances to his untimely death. Through Gurney’s eyes, Tilden is alternately an angel, a gentleman, a pederast, an actor, a celebrity, and a basket case, often in the same scene. Tilden’s life story, rife with themes of sadness and loneliness common to gay men’s coming-of-age stories of his day, is one the gay community might have a hard time embracing. Gurney sure did, albeit for different reasons, which makes this play a missed opportunity to recover a tragic, but enlightening piece of one gay man’s life. Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center, 150 W. 65th St., 212 239 6200. (E. Piepenburg)

VALHALLA In his latest comedy, Paul Rudnick mines history in comparing and contrasting the lives of King Ludwig II, the 19th century ruler known as “The Mad King of Bavaria,” and the fictitious James Avery, a precocious teenager living in small-town Texas in the 1930s. Ludwig was declared insane after bankrupting his treasury building elaborate castles and grottoes. He also harbored an obsession with Wagner’s opera “Lohengrin,” and if Rudnick is to be believed, wore bows in his hair and slept with chorus boys. James, on the other hand, is a kleptomaniac who sleeps with his best friend Henry Lee, with whom he shares a lifelong passion, wrecks havoc on his town, lands in jail, and earns the wrath of his family. Rudnick uses his sharp tongue to find humor and pathos in these two queer transgressors and makes clear that had they lived at the same time, they probably would have been best friends. New York Theatre Workshop, 79 E. 4th St., 212 780 9037. (E. Piepenburg)

ALICE IN WONDERLAND Bill Osco, the salacious writer/producer/director is back with his first play, an Off-Broadway musical adaptation of 1977’s wicked “Alice in Wonderland,” which re-imagines Alice as a sexual neophyte on a titillating journey of self-discovery and carnal knowledge. This musical comedy is prescribed for “mature audiences” due to “full nudity.” Alice lives with her boozed-up mamma in a trailer park in Weehawken, New Jersey. Wearing a white halter top and skimpy low-rise cut-offs, Alice dreams that a giant Rabbit lures her into his drug-filled domain of iniquity, as she dozes while reading––what else–– “Alice in Wonderland.” In “Wonderland,” all the denizens are oversexed and eager to debauch. The Mad Hatter, whose schlong is even bigger than his top hat, entices Alice to orally pleasure him and the Cheshire “Pussy” is a voracious lesbian. Kirk Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St., 212 239 6200. (D. Kennerley)

AUNT DAN AND LEMON Wallace Shawn’s play challenges us to face our complicity in our government’s aggressions. Narrated by Lemon (Lili Taylor), a Londoner, as a remembrance of her latently lesbian childhood relationship with her parents’ glamorous friend, Aunt Dan (Kristen Johnston), the play jars our comfort philosophically and in its style of presentation. Aunt Dan, “one of the youngest Americans to ever teach at Oxford,” is obsessed with Henry Kissinger. She defends his murderous policies in Vietnam in lusty, comically shocking speeches. Under Aunt Dan’s lingering influence, the grown Lemon, a reclusive with an eating disorder, spends her days reading about, and developing sympathies toward, the Nazis. Putting fascistic philosophies in the mouths of females, Shawn’s uses gender to disenfranchise the audience of its easy notions of aggressive masculinity versus pacifist femininity. Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd St., 212 239 6200. (E. Andrews)

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