Just Do Art!

Just Do Art!

Compiled by Scott Stiffler

THE LA MAMA CANTATA

Most people have one good book in them. By the time she left this mortal stage (on January 13, 2011 — at the age of 91), Ellen Stewart had over 3,000 theatrical productions to her name — having nurtured theater, dance, performance art and music as founder and artistic director of La MaMa (currently celebrating its 50th anniversary season). Writer and composer Elizabeth Swados’ new theater work pays tribute to La MaMa’s mama, by presenting a musical journey through Stewart’s life and times. The text is taken from Stewart’s own word as well as those who knew her well.

A cast of 18, accompanied by a piano and percussion ensemble, bring the story to life — and what a story. Arriving in New York (via Louisiana, via Chicago), Stewart spent her early years as a fashion designer for Saks Fifth Avenue — then found herself, in 1961, in the improbable position of being a woman of color determined to open a theater “dedicated to the playwright and all aspects of the theatre.” In the process, she distinguished herself as one of a very few creative types responsible for creating what came to be known as the Off-Off Broadway movement.

At the November premiere of “The La MaMa Cantata,” our own Martin Denton (a regular contributor to this paper, and editor of nytheatre.com) declared, “Like the best works at La MaMa over the years, the CANTATA is a dazzling showcase of diversity and imagination. The cast is alarmingly talented. They communicate Ellen’s words, commentary for her collaborators, along with passages from St. John and Corinthians to honor Ms. Stewart’s spiritual side with passion and joy. Swados’ score is magnificently varied and filled with emotion.” Such high praise from Denton (an enthusiastic theatergoer, but no light touch), plus the long shadow cast by Stewart, is more than reason enough to clear your crowded holiday calendar.

At 7:30pm on Thurs., Dec. 29 and Fri., Dec. 30 (the Dec. 30 performance will be live-streamed, and features a post-show talk-back with the cast and creator). At the Ellen Stewart Theatre (66 E. 4 St., btw. Bowery & Second Ave.). For tickets ($25; $20 for students/seniors), call the La MaMa box office at 212-475-7710 or visit lamama.org.

ACCIDENTALLY, LIKE A MARTYR

Playwright Grant James Varjas imbued his latest endeavor with an unmistakable ring of truth — by imbibing, dishing and learning valuable life lessons at an East Village watering hole very similar to the old school dive which serves as the setting for “Accidentally, Like a Martyr.” Back in the day, Varjas spent his wonder years as a budding gay man by logging countless hours at The Boiler Room (still going strong at 86 E. 4 St., btw. 1st and 2nd Aves.; boilerroomnyc.com).

Decades later, extended families are still being formed at your local gay bar — but today’s young bucks are more likely to be found raising a glass alongside straights and finding their casual kicks with the help of a smartphone app instead of that second Happy Hour drink. “Martyr” is more concerned with the former rather than the latter. In 90 minutes (with a few flashbacks to 2007 thrown in), a group of gay men spend a pivotal winter evening hunkering down in their favorite bar, grappling with life and aging in the 21st century.

The cast includes Keith McDermott (who was the young male lead opposite Richard Burton in the original Broadway production of “Equus”) and Brett Douglas (“The Play About the Naked Guy”).

Through January 8. Thurs. through Sat. at 8pm; Sun. at 3pm; Mon. at 7pm. At Paradise Factory (64 E. 4th St., btw. Bowery & Second Ave.). For tickets ($18; $15 for students and seniors), call 212-352-3101 or visit ovationtix.com. Also visit othersideproductions.org.

MATERIAL WITNESSES: NEW WORK FROM THE MANHATTAN QUILTERS GUILD

A welcome, unique and overdue addition to the Chelsea gallery scene, The ArtQuilt Gallery NYC continues to make the case for the aesthetic merits (and artistry) of quilting. Their latest exhibit, “Material Witnesses: New Work from the Manhattan Quilters Guild,” showcases work from 21 members of The Manhattan Quilters Guild (a 31 year old professional association of art quilters based in NYC). The Guild’s urban roots can be seen in their chosen subject matter (jury duty, subway construction, legal injustice, crime scene investigation and abstract images of our skyline are all accounted for here). Next up at the gallery: Paula Chung’s “Painting with Fiber: Florals” runs from January 24 through March 4. Then, Sue Benner’s “Walking Through Time” runs from March 20 through April 28.

Through Jan. 7, at The ArtQuilt Gallery NYC (133 W. 25th St., btw. Sixth and Seventh Aves.), Hours: Tues. through Sat., 11am-6pm; Sun. and Mon., by appointment. For info, call 212-807-9451 or visit artquiltgallerynyc.com.

FILM: PRINCE OF THE HIMALAYAS

The Rubin Museum of Art, The Shakespeare Society and Asian CineVision present the U.S. premiere of “Prince of the Himalayas.” Filmed entirely in Tibet, theater and film director Sherwood Hu’s high-altitude take on “Hamlet” is set in ancient times, under the shadow of the Himalayas. That location alone (a rare sight on American cinema screens) brings an epic scope to the proceedings. Factor in Hu’s eye for lavish costumes, painterly framing and historical histrionics and a good time is guaranteed for all. Well, as good a time as one can have, given the tragic arc of “Hamlet.” Described in the film’s press as “the proto-typical tale of oedipal anxiety, or of the terrifying possibilities of taking action in the social world,” this new cultural take on the melancholy Dane will, in all likelihood, be worth coming out of your winter cave for.

Screenings on Wed., Dec. 28/Jan. 11 at 7pm; Fri., Dec. 30 at 7/9:30pm; Mon., Jan. 2 and Sun., Jan. 8 at 3:30pm; Wed., Jan. 4 at 7pm; Sat., Jan. 7 and 14 at 3:30/6pm. For tickets ($12; $5 student rush), call 212-620-5000, x344 or visit rmanyc.org/prince. Museum admission included with purchase of ticket. at Rubin Museum of Art (150 W. 17 St., btw. Sixth & Seventh Aves.).

HOMO COMICUS

Your indefatigable host Bob Montgomery — that somewhat twisted but lovable den mother of queer comedians — has put together what reads on paper as yet another stellar roster of his long-running LGBT-themed comedy series. The first “Homo Comicus” of 2012 will feature Jackie Hoffman (currently starring in “The Addams Family” on Broadway), Nashville-based Peter Depp (star of Sundance Channel’s original series “Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys”), local club and cabaret star Bianca Del Rio (from Logo’s “One Night Stand-Up: Dragtastic New York”) and Jackie Monahan (star of the recent film “Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same”). Between sets, Mr. Montgomery keeps your funny bone lubricated as he pulls a few punchlines of his own. It’s all part of a good (albeit not 100 percent clean) “wild night of outsize LOLGBT hilarity.”

Wed., Jan. 4, at 8:30pm. At Gotham Comedy Club (208 W. 23rd St., btw. Seventh & Eighth Aves.). Cover: $20, with 2-drink minimum. For reservations, call 212-367-9000. Visit gothamcomedyclub.com and homocomicus.com.

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