Queer Living Room

HOT! Gets Cooking at Dixon Place

The Living Room at Dixon Place, a theater space on the Bowery, really is the living room of Ellie Covain, the founder of the group, who spends some of her time living in the back bedroom, adjacent to the performing space. Dixon Place began life twenty years ago in 1985 in Paris and Covain recreated what is essentially a salon for artists when she returned to New York. The theater presents over three hundred works in a year and the summer months are devoted to gay and lesbian fare. The queer program is called Hot!, and it runs from June through August with 59 performances sometimes two per night.

The space, which only seats about twenty, is filled out with couches and settees and overstuffed chairs and it makes for a comfortable night at the theater. But not for long. Dixon Place has managed to snare $1.5 million in grants from the city and the state and will open a new space on Chrystie Street as soon as renovations, which are underway, are completed. The capital campaign looks to raise $4.5 million towards completion.

The theatre is funky as hell and the artists who perform in the Hot! Festival are more like a family than a theatrical troupe. Ellie herself has five curators who help her out and is proud of the fact that all the artists and staff are paid for their work.

“I had never run a business before but I had a 501(c)(3) so I started as a non-profit organization and decided to do it for a year to have the public in my house and the door open all day until 10 p.m. The East Village then was a different place.

All sorts of people wandered in. It was an experiment in the old form of performance art. Like a happening. You never knew what was going to happen. People would come in and think it was an oasis. How is it possible that the door is open and she lives here? Nothing was put away. It was obvious that it was my home. And everybody felt safe. Nothing ever happened. “I had no idea I would be doing this for twenty years.”

The work produced in this permissive ambiance is highly variable. Among the best of the Hot! Opening is monologist Jeffery Essmann who says he doesn’t believe in autobiography or confessions but does a good job of incorporating fractured versions of both in his work, which is called “Skin Deep.” It really is that; he doesn’t get into anything too heavy. He’s a droll fellow at home describing his father’s funeral as well as explaining why fashion is profound and not shallow. He says he got sick of New York and returned to Chicago only to be confronted by whether he was a Sox Fan or a Cubs fan. He’s so laid back one can’t imagine him taking sides. He has a smooth, mellifluous soothing voice—the voice of someone who knows how to hold a crowd with odd anecdotes that could easily go wrong. He puts on a good show.

Less successful is Dan Fishback’s “Please Let Me Love You,” which is a duet of sorts between two screaming Iraqi women and Michael Jackson. The stage is covered with toilet paper to signify clouds or possibly snow and we see screened versions of Michael Jackson’s trial and some of his songs. The Iraqi woman scream for their children and the piece seems to have an ambivalent attitude about whether or not Jackson was a child molester. You can’t tell whether or not the piece is saying we’re wasting time on Michael Jackson while Iraqi children are dying or making the case that Jackson was guilty—or neither. There’s also some pamphleteering for and against gay rights that comes out of nowhere.

Still, there is something stirring about hearing the pop song Jackson wrote for the children of Africa called “We Are the World” which briefly brings the plays themes together.

“Evicted From Oblivion” is an amusing shambles. The play is obviously unfinished and the actors read and sing from pages. According to the program “with the recent Catholic Church declaration that Limbo is no existent, (the artists) imagine a bar where citizens of the netherworld imagine the question, ‘what do you do when you’re kicked out of oblivion.’” What survives the work in progress which has become a variety show of sorts is the lovely voices of Joseph Keckler and Erin Markey. Keckler is a bass and he does a beautiful aria. Markey does a number in which she appears on stage completely naked and pulls a tiny scroll from her vagina and begins to sing the munchkin song from the “Wizard of Oz.” Some of the other actors in the play wear Depends—a bad idea if the full play ever gets written.

“Rip Me Open” is a film noir set not in a bar but in a Denny’s and an Appleby’s. A client wants the detective to investigate his mysterious obsession—young Mr. Isherwood. The acting is both droll and over the top and the author makes good on the title at the end of the play. My only complaint is the quarry never appears.

Other fare includes “The Collective Opera Company,” “The Lower East Side of Love,” “Ghost From Underground,” “And/Or,” and “Believe the Hype,” an evening of new solos and group works.

The closing performance is Susana Cook’s “The Idiot King” (August 16-26) and is about the tragedy of greediness.

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