Before August Fringe, June fests stake their claim


Ice, Planet, La MaMa give it to you good and plenty


May was a merry month, as your correspondent actually got to see a couple of the shows he’s been touting in these reckless pages. “Play Dead,” the spook show cooked up by Coney Island carny Todd Robbins and Teller (the silent half of Penn & Teller), was a life-altering experience. My jaw literally dropped a dozen times at the surprises in this 90-minute frightmare, not the least of which were the show’s opening words: “Hello, this is Teller.” Following that, the whole show — séances, murders, disappearing acts, levitations — were so much dénouement. But I kid.

Rarely do I consider myself sated at any entertainment experience. “Play Dead” has enough fun for ten or twenty other shows. If I could, I’d go back to it a dozen times, as apparently Dick Cavett has. Over at UNDER St. Marks, Crystal Skillman’s “Cut,” despite its equally bloody-sounding title, treated the audience to savagery of another sort, as a trio of reality show writers manipulate reality in various ways to suit their own convenience. It’s a thought-provoking and fast-moving meditation on life in the “post-reality” age.

Now, on to the future. A bevy of festivals this month. If you’ve the time and the curiosity, check out the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity, June 1-26 (planetconnections.org); the Howl! Festival in Tompkins Square Park June 3-5 (howlfestival.com); Clubbed Thumb’s Summerworks 2011 at HERE Arts Center, June 5-25 (clubbedthumb.org); and Metropolitan Playhouse’s East Village Theatre Festival, June 6-25 (metropolitanplayhouse.org). A paralyzing number of choices, I know, but that’s life in the big city!

If you’re like me, when you first heard the title “Ajax in Iraq” you thought it was about the U.S. military’s mop-up operations over in Baghdad. Well, at any rate, we were both wrong. The title refers to the hero of Sophocles’ tragedy, which author Ellen McLaughlin has adapted to a modern setting. It’s being produced by Flux Theatre Ensemble. I’ve seen a bit of this company’s work, including director August Schulenburg’s “Riding the Bull” at Theater for the New City a few seasons ago. Be prepared for some gritty theatre. By now you’re probably wanting to attend the production just to restore some of the dignity I’ve destroyed. It’s playing at CSV Cultural and Educational Center, June 3rd through the 25th. For more info: fluxtheatre.org.

Starting June 4 and continuing through every Saturday in June, the stellar Tammy Faye Starlite is dropping her cowgirl hat and donning a long, blond wig to play decadent Teutonic pop singer Nico in “Chelsea Mädchen.” One wonders if her other persona got sucked up to heaven in the Rapture. No matter. Tammy Faye is outrageous, Nico was appalling. I predict the combination will be something like vinegar and baking soda — the stuff that blows up toy volcanoes. You can see her do her hippie thing at The Duplex. Reservations: 212-255-5438. Visit tammyfayestarlight.com.

Also opening June 4 (for a two-day run) is Company XIV’s “Dénouement: A Murderous Masquerade,” created by the company’s director Austin McCormick. Company XIV is my favorite dance company in New York (actually, my only dance company in New York). Specializing in Baroque movement (with some contemporary elements), they gild their exciting work with gorgeous sets and costumes and generate a magical atmosphere that is guaranteed to take you light years away from your cold water flat with the cats and the stacks of newspapers. I saw “Dénouement” performed at the company’s Gowanus headquarters back in October. It’s a kind of murder mystery, reminiscent of Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death.” Jolly good fun for those who like their mayhem pretty. It’s all part of the “La MaMa Moves! Dance Festival.” For more info: lamama.org.

June 9 through July 3, EndTimes Productions will be presenting the fifth edition of their annual Sci-Fi/Horror play festival “Vignettes for the Apocalypse” at The Kraine Theater. This is the same outfit that put on “MANSON: The Musical” a few months back. I’ve just been looking over the schedule to pick out which shows I want to see, and you know what? I can’t pick! I wanna see ‘em all. If I have to pick only one of their nine bills to see, however, it’ll undoubtedly be Bill #5, which appears to have been subcontracted out to Nosedive Productions. Entitled “The Blood Brothers Present…Freaks from the Morgue,” it features plays by the above-lauded Crystal Skillman, Mac Rogers (whose “Viral” won the FringeNYC Outstanding Play award in 2009), Stephanie Cox-Williams (called “New York’s queen of gore” by the New York Press), James Comtois (author of the vampire play “The Little One” at the Kraine last year) and Brian Silliman (whose play “The Magic of Mrs. Crowling” will be directed by Abe Goldfarb, a.k.a. Bastard Keith of burlesque fame). This is just one of nine bills in the festival, friends. If you find me outside the theatre, wide-eyed, limping and gibbering to myself, you’ll know that I’ve stayed too long and seen one too many plays. Get the full schedule yourself at endtimesproductions.org.

June 22 through July 30, Soho Think Tank (in exile) is presenting their annual Ice Factory festival at 3LD Art & Technology Center. I spy with my little eye a couple of shows to watch out for. One is “Václav Havel’s Hunt for a Pig,” translated by Edward Einhorn and directed by Henry Akona. Einhorn was the man behind the citywide Václav Havel festival a few years back and has become a trusted American ally of the Czech playwright and former president. He has more than a little street cred in this area, so it should be worth a peek. Einhorn also directed last season’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” that featured an inconsequential columnist (this inconsequential columnist, that is) in a showboating role. Also of interest in Ice Factory this year is “Three Graces,” an opera with libretto and lyrics by avant-garde playwright Ruth Margraff. It is described as “An Iliad for modern Greece, told in the lyric voice of a woman named Three Graces.” Yes! And one dark morning in the middle of the night two dead boys got up to fight. For more info on Ice Factory go to: sohothinktank.org.

June 23 through July 13, the good folks from DMTheatrics and their American Shakespeare Factory will be presenting their white trash version of “The Taming of the Shrew” at The Red Room. Director Frank Cwiklik’s trademark style is a sort of neon sledgehammer, all thunderous, exploding sound design and seizure-inducing light cues. He brings a bit of the theme park into a theatre that can certainly use some jazzing up. Recent hits have included the world premiere of “Two Gentlemen of Lebowski” and “Plan Nine From Outer Space!” The question is, how’s he going to pull off a Jerry Springer version of literature’s best-loved wife-beating in an era that don’t take too kindly to the “taming” of women? I’m hoping he’s reserving some of that sleight of hand for Shakespeare’s text. If you’re as curious as I am, you can get the details at dm-theatrics.com.

See you next month!