Trav S.D. on Downtown Theater


Swell February shows on the boards below 14th Street



In the interest of quality assurance, your correspondent is obligated to perform a not-so-random spot check on some of the shows he plugged sight unseen the previous month.

In January, we hit an avant-garde trifecta. First, some good news. Despite taking a critical bashing from the major dailies, Young Jean Lee’s “Lear” at Soho Rep proved to be unexpectedly moving, relentlessly inventive, deeply transgressive, gorgeously designed, and seamlessly and acted and directed. I considered it a privilege to be in the audience.

I also caught “Miranda” at HERE’s Culturemart. This was a developmental presentation of a multi-media experimental opera by Kamala Sankaram. Not only did she compose the impressive score (which spans styles from classical to pop to avant-garde), she also sings the lead — and even took the photos for the slide projection. She is aided and abetted by a quintet of musicians who play the opera’s score as well as the supporting parts. It’s a sort of cross between a murder mystery and “The People’s Court.” While the current workshop presentation has now closed, look for a new iteration of “Miranda” in the future as HERE moves the project towards a full production (Sankaram is one of their resident artists).

Lastly, I caught Richard Maxwell’s “ADS” at PS122. Most famous for deadpan productions of his own plays (and nearly causing riots at BAM’S NextWave Festival by violating Shakespeare), in “ADS” Maxwell has gone even further in testing the boundaries of theatre and art. In reality, his current show might be more accurately described as a documentary film. It consists of a series of projected, life-sized videos of the philosophical ruminations of a couple dozen ordinary citizens. There are no live actors present, nor could their monologues be described as scripted drama. But I see no reason to define it at all, and I feel enriched for having experienced whatever it was.


Pompadoured Politico (and former Green Party mayoral candidate) Reverend Billy will be holding a “revival” with his Life After Shopping Gospel Choir at 92Y Tribeca on February 6. I’ve presented this man, I’ve interviewed him, I’ve talked to him, I’ve watched him perform – and I still don’t know what the hell he is. He’s kind of a cross between Andy Kaufman and Abby Hoffman. While he seems to be portraying a Jimmy Swaggart-esque preacher, everything he says could be coming out of the mouth of Michael Moore — and onstage or off, he never drops character. If you don’t dig his politics, his weirdness alone is sufficient spectacle — plus his gospel choir is amazing.  For more info see www.revbilly.com.

Transgression of a naughtier sort will be the order of the day (or night) in the developmental production of drag artiste Charles Busch’s new play “The Divine Sister” — opening at Theater for the New City, February 6. This outrageous comic homage to nearly every Hollywood film involving nuns, [including] “The Song of Bernadette,” “The Bells of St. Mary’s,” “The Singing Nun” and “Agnes of God” stars Julie Halston, and Busch himself as the Mother Superior. If you only know Busch from his movies “Die, Mommie, Die!” and “Psycho Beach Party,” this is a rare chance to see the actor/playwright perform live in one of the LES theatres that gave him his start. The show runs through March 7. For more info: theaterforthenewcity.net.

If you like your drag more historical, there’s always “Julian Eltinge” — opening at Dixon Place on February 12. Don’t know who Eltinge was? Fie on ye! He was only the most famous of all of vaudeville’s female impersonators (back when they called them female impersonators). To his dying day he claimed not to be gay. We’ll see what this play has to say about that! It’s written by Clay McCleod Chapman, a fiction writer best known to audiences as the force behind the sporadic revue “The Pumpkin Pie Show.” Clay performs his own work far better than most other authors I’ve had to sit through (with the possible exception of a Charles Dickens impersonator, but that doesn’t count). His collaborators on “Julian Eltinge” are the members of the outré music duo The Venn Diagrams. Rick Sorkin wrote the tunes; his musical partner Jeffery Marsh plays the title character. Find out more at www.dixonplace.org.

If you’re looking for some Valentine-themed action, there are a couple of promising possibilities on the calendar this month.

Charles Mee’s “Fêtes de la Nuit” — billed as a “deliciously naughty valentine to Paris” — will be premiering at the Ohio Theatre on February 8. Mee is best known for his collage-like regurgitations of existing texts. The Greeks are one of his more frequent sources. Years ago, I saw his play “True Love” (a sort of white trash “Phaedra”) at the now-defunct Zipper. I’ll always remember with fondness the scene where the completely nude woman seduces her 14 year-old stepson. Publicity materials for the current show mention that three of the cast members are deaf, and the production incorporates American Sign Language. “Fêtes de la Nuit” will play at the Ohio through February 27. For more info: www.Fetesnyc.com.

If you’re looking to gawk at bold-faced names (and pay for the privilege) there’s always “Love ‘n Courage” — Theater for the New City’s Valentine’s Day themed annual gala. It takes place this year at the National Arts Club on February 22. Hosted by Charles Busch and Julie Halston (them again), the event will feature presentations by Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson, F. Murray Abraham, Romulus Linney, Marian Seldes, Elaine Stritch, Tammy Grimes, Phoebe Legere and Besty Von Furstenberg. The event is a steal at $125 a ticket. If you attend, that’ll be me stuffing roast beef into my brief case. Ticket info: theaterforthenewcity.net. 

When is a theatre not a theatre? When it is three theatres. This is the case with the Horse Trade Theater Group’s constellation of off-off houses: The Red Room, The Kraine Theater, and Under St. Marks. All three will be home to Horse Trade’s 4th annual Frigid New York Festival (February 24-March 7). And no, the shows are not all about Long Island housewives. Of the 30 or shows in the lineup, a couple in particular stand out as worth a look. “The Bike Trip” by Martin Dockery bills itself as a “breathtaking quest to uncover the nature of the psychedelic experience.” I had a chance to see sections from his last Frigid show “The Surprise” (one of the hits of last year). Dockery is a funny, engaging and mind-blowing actor. I think if we throw an acid trip into the mix we can be assured of a rambunctious ride. Also, for reasons wholly academic, I find myself drawn to a production called “Uncorseted” — which is advertised to concern the adventures of a “countess” and a “chamber maid” who “freely explore” their “true identities.” I’ll be outside the theatre with a sleeping bag the night before this show opens — and next month, I’ll report back on what I find.