Manson, Macbeth and murder — Oh, my!


Downtown theater in October is downright scary


About Last Month….

September was a diverting month — and not just because trees and billboards were flying through the streets of the outer boroughs.

Theater for the New City’s annual street theater presentation “Gone Fission” was, as always, a charmer. It HAD to be. Keeping all those New Yorkers entertained in the 95-degree heat AND getting them energized to go out and recycle is no job for stuffed shirts and killjoys. As usual, their original musical agitprop had something for the old and young, black and white, left and…well, farther left.

I also managed to catch The Flying Karamazov Brothers in “4Play” at the Minetta Lane Theatre. Though not the same personnel of yore (only one original member of the team remains), this quartet of juggler-clowns still has the stuff to amuse and amaze. The puns fly as fast as the pins, and the guys juggle everything from a bag of packing peanuts to a McDonald’s fish sandwich (which I understand are made out of the same substance). What’s more, they sing — and play a half-dozen instruments. They don’t however, as advertised, fly. Puny humans!

Red Bull Theater’s reading of “Gammer Gurton’s Needle” was a true revelation — easily the most vulgar play I have ever seen (and it’s over 400 years old). A silly farce about a hag’s loss of the titular sewing tool, the play makes more use of the “C Word” than a stadium full of sailors and theatre queens. The hilarious romp was directed by the great Everett Quinton and starred Mary Testa as “Gammer.”

Blue Coyote’s “Nance O’Neill” turned out to be the most soporific play possible about a lesbian love affair between an axe murderer and an actress (one who is in turn being portrayed by a burlesque dancer). You’d think some combination of those elements in a play about Lizzie Borden would keep a body on his toes — but no such luck. Playwright David Foley seems to think that a play is merely a succession of stilted, expository conversations leading to a curtain call. Cooch dancer Sapphire Jones (here billed as Rachel Brown) plays the title character with little of the vivacity she no doubt invests in the burlesque stage. But as Gypsy herself would tell us, the difference between acting and the shimmy is one of degree, not of kind. I give this production 40 whacks.

By contrast, “Down There” by Axis Company, was hands down one of the most harrowing nights of theater I have ever experienced — akin to a haunted house attraction, but all too real. Ironically, Randy Sharps’ avant-garde method of directing seems downright naturalistic in the milieu of madness that was the Baniszewski house (here fictionalized) — where a 16-year-old girl was starved and tortured to death. This may be the company’s best work yet, but I’m afraid I can only recommend it to those with iron stomachs.

Coming Up in October:

And speaking of haunted houses, October is when I like to check out the scary shows. It’s a kind of pre-emptive inoculation, so that no ghouls or goblins will come and scare me at my home. They always do anyway — demanding candy!

If you like you horror ripped from the pages of the tabloids, I recommend “Manson: The Musical” at the Ace of Clubs Theater. This revival of a show that played four months last fall was co-written by Kate Flannery of “The Office.” Having written and performed in my own musical play about Charlie last year, I am far from disproving of the choice of the subject matter and more than a little curious. I’ll be attending this production with an unusually open mind, especially since director Russell Dobular assured me that he has “cast the show according to the philosophy of Aaron Spelling.” That’s what I’m talking about, children! The show opens Oct. 3 and runs through Dec. 9. More info at www.endtimesproductions.org.

Fast forward from the Summer of 69’ to 1972. That’s the year, and the setting, of “The Deep Throat Sex Scandal” — opening at the Bleecker Street Theatre on Oct. 10. While this tale about the revolutionary porn film starring Linda Lovelace doesn’t precisely belong in the horror category, I see that writer David Bertolino’s first theatrical venture was a Boston-area Halloween theme park called Spookyworld — so I’m expecting some kind of bells and whistles! A vibrating bed, at least! For more info, go to www.deepthroattheplay.com.

For spooky fun of a more innocent sort, you might check out Anne Bogart and SITI Company’s production of “Radio Macbeth” — an adaptation that transplants Shakespeare’s bloodiest play to a deserted radio rehearsal studio at night. Some of the performances will present that play on a double bill with the ultimate Halloween prank (the Orson Welles version of “War of the Worlds”). Performances are at Dance Theater Workshop, Oct. 5 through the 16. More info at www.siti.org.

For obvious reasons, this month will also be a very good time to check out  Clay McLeod Chapman’s new series at Dixon Place: “Fear Mongers: Fireside Chats about Horror Films.” Best known for his long-running “Pumpkin Pie Show,” this series (with support from Fangoria Magazine) features various luminaries in serious discussion about their favorite chillers. The Oct. 26 presentation features Dennis Paoli (screenwriter, “Re-animator”), Douglas Cheek (director, “C.H.U.D.”), Jason Zinoman (NY Times theatre critic and blogger) and others. Furthermore, the event is free! For more info, go to wwwdixonplace.org.

I am particularly excited about “Play Dead” — the new show by sideshow king Todd Robbins and magician Teller (the silent half of Penn & Teller). Starring the former, directed by the latter and co-written by both, the show bills itself as an “unnerving thriller” featuring “frightful surprises and diabolical laughter.” Robbins’ storytelling (always masterful) promises to be enhanced by “ethereal sights, sounds and even touches of the returning dead.” And if you don’t see me at the theatre, rest assured I’ll have become one of the returning dead myself.  “Play Dead” opens at the Players Theatre on Oct. 21.

And, lastly, what of Halloween night itself? The place to be is always Theater for the New City — where the annual bash features wiccan rituals, fortune tellers, freaks, and devils (and much of it quite genuine!). Come, in costume, to one of the last outposts of true bacchanalia!