Some Last Laughs on 42nd Street

The Pickle Box comedy troupe enlivens a venue threatened with eviction

Forty-second Street may have lost its seamy side, but it is still a place where hopes and dreams collide with harsh reality and disappointment.

The latest victim of the corporate take-over in the Times Square area is the Tank, a modest space for performing and visual arts at 432 West 42d Street near 10th Avenue. The Tank opened its doors in May 2003 with a vision for providing a milieu for new work by young and emerging artists with admission fees never exceeding $10. This is the kind of place that provides a forum for nurturing new talent who come to New York with empty pockets and bags full of creative aspiration. In less than two years, the Tank built a reputation for hip, edgy productions, hosting comedy shows, theater, musical evenings, a film series and variety nights.

The Tank also organizes “Outside The Box” events including such civic-minded activities as “Beyond the Stadium: The West Side Development Plan” where city officials and the public were invited for a discussion of the plans to re-zone the West Side. The venue also featured an “Un-auguration Day Party” with guest speakers venting their anti-Bush energy for what was billed as a “very dark day.”

Now, taking its place on the glass store front beside posters for coming attractions is a menacing notice that “The Tank is Losing Its Home to Commercial Real Estate Developers.” The director of the Tank confirmed that this no attempt at dark humor or a counter-culture send-up for a new show. The premises must be vacated by May 21. Leading up to that sad day will be a series of Tank countdown parties culminating in “The Wrecking Ball” in early May, which is being held to support the performance group’s move to as yet undetermined space elsewhere in Manhattan.

Until then the show(s) must go on. On January 26, as a particularly biting wind roared up from the Hudson River a couple of blocks away, laughter and chaos reigned inside the Tank as the Pickle Box unfolded its latest comedy repertoire of eight satirical sketches. A comedy troupe which performs regularly in New York City—this was its second gig at the Tank—The Pickle Box works with humorous new material incorporating real life experiences which touch New Yorkers in their every day lives.

Animated by eight talented young actors who were enthusiastically received by an standing room-only crowd of mostly 20-somethings together with a few doting parents and assorted aging hipsters, the hour-long show ran the gamut from religion to pop/trash culture to family life with a twist. In one hilarious scene a “double” surprise birthday party is staged—for an eight-year-old boy and for a 20-year-old who is reluctant to come out of the closet. A kiddy’s clown appears with a big red nose and wild red hair, entertains the party-goers with corny horn-honking antics, then suddenly strips down to a rainbow-colored g-string and undulates wildly into a hot go-go boy dance hoping to lure the closeted gay man out of his shell. It ends up, of course, as a riotous comedy of errors when the eight-year-old boy comes out of the closet instead!

Nothing is sacred in this show, including the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. In a hilarious take-off, Joseph complains to Mary, saying, “I don’t want my wife sleeping with deities.” When she finally convinces Joseph that her pregnancy is immaculate, she slinks off to a corner, pulls out her cell phone, dials God and says, “Hey, G Baby… I think he’s bought it!”

A politically correct crowd might get up in arms over several of the company’s sketches.

One depicts a crowd of homeless types dancing the “Nutcracker Suite” ballet and ending up in a drunken pile on the floor; another vignette pokes fun at short-change bodega artists; in this case the shyster is of Middle Eastern mien, convincingly played by Luke Strandquist, a young actor of Irish-Swedish ancestry. Both sketches are very funny and the upshot is that we are made to realize that no one should be immune from the slings and arrows of non-malicious humor.

As the audience filed out into the cold night with smiles still on their faces, they were handed a leaflet that said, “The Tank is Losing Its Home. Help Us Find A New Space. Help Shape Our Future.” Forty-Second Street may be coming a wholesome theme park, but in the process it may be losing its soul.

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