Hustlers, go-go boys, drugs and various other terms that have become politically incorrect are brought to the stage — along with a whole lot of disco — by playwright Nora Burns in a breezy, clever and poignant look at the end of an era entitled “The Village!: A Disco Daydream.”
Aptly described by TheaterMania as “Our Town with poppers and lame,” the show is happily back at Dixon place for its third run, just in time for Pride month. While the characters are primarily queer, the themes of love, desire, friendship and loss are universal.
“I think it’s unique because it resonates with everyone,” opines actor Eileen Dover, who portrays Petey. “You don’t have to have been alive in 1979 (when the story primarily takes place) or even in 1994 (where we leave you off) to understand the humor. The jokes land for everyone and the emotional bits too. It’s a show that taps into one’s humanity.”
Surprisingly, it is the first time that Nora Burns has written for a large cast. Her resumé includes being writer and performer of sketch comedy with Planet Q, the Nellie Olesons and Unitard, as well as a biographical show, “David’s Friend.”
That production, the story of Burns’ relationship to her closest friend in the age of Studio 54, came about organically, she relates: “It started out as a little show for ten friends at Dixon Place and ended up touring to places like LA and Toronto.”
It was thinking about that time of her life that gave Burns the idea for her “The Village” back in 2019.
“I loved the idea of doing something like “Our Town,” she says. “Even though I had never done anything with a full cast or dancing.”
Burns enlisted choreographer Robin Carrigan and first-time director Adam Pivirotto and told them they could do whatever they wanted — leading to some very ingenious ways of telling the story, all of which takes place in a West Village apartment.
Originally seen as a table read-through, Burns wasn’t sure she even liked it, but Cynthia Nixon encouraged her to stick with it.
“It’s very different from what it was originally,” Burns notes. “We got rid of the parts that made me cringe.”
She enlisted several of the actors from the original reading with Dover, Antony Cherrie and Chuck Blasius reprising their roles.
“The actors have really developed,” Burns says. “It’s a great cast, like a family. There are no divas.”
Blasius, who plays Old George, concurs, stating that, “For me, it’s the most diverse cast of actors I’ve ever worked with. And everyone is a delight.”
Dover reiterates those sentiments, adding, “We (the cast and crew) have become a family. You can feel it. We love and care about each other and we have become a part of each other’s daily lives.”
The actors all have favorite sections of the show, with Ashley Chavonne who plays Lisa choosing the “dream ballet” as her top choice because “it’s so silly and fun to perform!” Although she adds that “Junkie Jane’s performance with the go-go boys is a very close second.”
Keep an eye out next awards season for a nomination for Burns’ portrayal of Jane, which will probably require a category of its own.
Many of the actors chose the final scene as their top choice, because, as Blasius mentions, “In the very last moments when the dead are remembered – there’s such a feeling of love and kindness coming from the audience.”
The production developed with sizable — and much appreciated — contributions from Carrigan and Pivirotto.
“Nothing that I write is precious,” Burns reveals. “I was open to their ideas about taking things out or adding. If anything comes of this show, I hope that it’s that Adam gets more work.” Carrigan notes that “The playwright creates the rules of the universe and that as choreographer, I get to say that there is dancing in heaven.”
The show seems to resonate personally for all the actors, from Blasius, who lived through the time period, to younger performers like Antony Cherrie, who plays the central part of Trade.
“It makes one want to take more risks in day to day life, tell the ones you love that you love them so much, say yes even when it may scare you a little to do so and to live in the luxury of life that so many that we remember in the show can’t do because of AIDS,” Cherrie said. “Personally, it makes me even more proud to be gay than I ever was before.”
Antwon LeMonte, who portrays Jason, simply hopes that the audience will take away joy and hope. Burns is pretty happy with how it all turned out and would love to see it produced on a bigger stage.
“I think that people hear ‘disco musical,’ and they think that it’s just going to be silly numbers,” she muses. “I actually didn’t expect it to be so emotional. I want to see things that are smart, funny, entertaining and have some resonance. I always try to do the kind of show that I want to see and I think that we did that.”
Dover may have the most colorful hopes for the show’s impact: “I want people who are young to know about what came before them. I want people who were there to have a beautiful walk down memory lane. I want people to know that this amazing group of people who came together to put this show together are fucking super stars!”
The Village! runs through June 23. Info is available at dixonplace.org/performances/
Also, Nora Burns performs with Unitard on Aug. 8 at the 6B Community Garden at 6:30 p.m. Admission free.