Winter’s chill warmed by hot Downtown theater

BY TRAV S.D.  |  Happy New Year! Notice the difference? Okay, there isn’t any — but that doesn’t mean we can’t all take a minute to breathe, get our bearings and collect ourselves before jumping back into the rat race. A little rest and recreation! While it’s too freezing to play Frisbee in the park, might I suggest what’s in a few Downtown theatres?

First, a show that will kick the year off with both an ending and a beginning. Kate Valentine (one of the early pioneers of the new burlesque scene, with her character Miss Astrid) will be presenting a very special show at Bowery Poetry Club on January 3 and 4. For this one, she’ll be breaking out her other comedy character, pregnant Bay Ridge teenager Crystal McBride. With her friend Brandi Van Pelt (Laura Sweeney), McBride hosts the mock public access cable “The Baby Daddy Show” — wherein the two clue-deprived mothers-to-be seek the fathers of their love children over the airwaves. The rub this time out? At performance time, Valentine will actually be nine months pregnant. There is a real chance she could go into labor during the show, in which case special guests Victor Varnado and Abe Goldfarb (a.k.a “Bastard Keith”) may have to spring into action with forceps. No problem: I’m sure they’ve done it before! Any way you slice it, this is guaranteed to be a memorable evening. More info at bowerypoetry.com.

Dixon Place, an important center for the variety arts, is starting the year off right. Of course they always manage to get it right — but what’s got me excited is two monthly series that will showcase scads of New York’s top variety acts (plus numerous aspirants). On the first Monday of every month, look for “The Bindlestiff Open Stage Variety Hour.” On the third Monday, “Downtown Clown Revue.” Contrary to what you might think, these are not amateur nights. Yes, they are potential platforms for newbies who want a to premiere a new vaudeville act. But the vast bulk of their bills are made up of established neo-vaudevillians who either want to try out new bits, promote their own shows happening elsewhere or simply want a little stage time to keep from getting rusty. Such “fraternal” shows are very old school; an ideal set-up for vaudeville networking in the same way that the Monday Night Magic series (mondaynightmagic.com) is for magicians. The Bindlestiff show (which inaugurates January 2) is organized by the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus — fresh from a two-year run at Galapagos. Christopher Lueck’s Clown Revue has been operating at a number of venues over the past several years (at Dixon Place for the past few months). The next edition is January 16. For information on both: dixonplace.org. Also visit bindlestiff.org and newyorkdowntownclown.com.

Two annual winter theatre festivals are back this month. “Under the Radar” (January 4-15) is curated by PS122’s former artistic director Mark Russell, who bills UTR as “a crash course in theatre that is exciting, independent and experimental, created by some of the most dynamic artists working today.” The carefully culled menu of offerings includes 16 productions at five venues including “Goodbar” — a “live concept album” based on the novel “Looking for Mr. Goodbar” (which spawned the controversial 1977 film), “Lick, But Don’t Swallow” — a comedy about an angel who comes down from heaven but finds herself trapped in the body of a porn star (apparently the show was banned in Turkey after only one performance) and “The Plot is the Revolution” — featuring dueling Antigones played by Judith Malina and Silvia Calderoni. For more info, see undertheradarfestival.com.

Meanwhile, PS122 has COIL, its own festival of experimental dance, theatre and performance works from around the world (January 5-29). Artistic director Vallejo Gantner says that COIL presents work that is “fully realized, but on the bleeding front edge.” Ouch! The 2012 festival may be the most international edition to date, with works from Argentina, Belgium, Croatia, France, Ireland and Lebanon — 11 premieres in all. Among the local entries: “Newyorkland” by director Kenneth Collins and video artist William Cusick, which mashes up scenes from movie and television crime dramas with interviews with real cops; and “Untitled Feminist Show” by Young Jean Lee’s Theater Company. I caught a workshop production of this mostly wordless, movement-based piece by the ever-elusive playwright-director Lee a few months ago. Her work never fails to surprise and inspire.  As PS 122’s main space is under renovation, the majority of COIL will take place off-premise at a number of venues throughout the city. To get the skinny, go to ps122.org.

A third entry in our winter theatre festival sweepstakes takes us into realms of a more retro kind. The always backward-looking (and therefore forward-looking) Metropolitan Playhouse will be presenting its Horatio Alger Festival January 16-29. This company has had a tremendous track record of presenting festivals of new work by contemporary playwrights inspired by the likes of Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Nathan Hawthorne and Edgar Allen Poe. In the current outing, five latter day scribes give us their take on the novelist for young people — famed for his rags-to-riches stories. Given his problematic personal life, there are bound to be some spicy entries. At least one of them (Adam Klasfeld’s “Pluck”) delves into the unsavory backstory (accusations of pederasty) and should make for a rousing evening. Full details at metropolitanplayhouse.org.

On January 18, Daniel Talbott’s new play “Yosemite” will be premiering at The Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. I must admit I was initially hoping the play was a biographical treatment of the life of a certain Bugs Bunny antagonist with a very large mustache. It turns out that it’s about “three siblings who are sent out into the snow-silent woods in the Sierra Nevada foothills to dig a hole that will be deep enough to bury a family secret.” Great Horny Toads! I still hold out hopes that it will have at least some scenes touching upon the rootinest, tootinest hombre west of the Pecos. But even if it doesn’t, the play contains some live action stars weighty enough to justify checking it out, including Kathryn Erbe (known from “Law and Order: Criminal Intent” and many fine productions with Steppenwolf) and Seth Numrich (fresh from “War Horse” up at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theatre). For more info, visit rattlestick.org.

Lastly, the month is ending on a high (low) note with a revival of the notorious musical “Carrie” — famous for being Broadway’s most expensive flop when it premiered in 1988. It ran for only three days, at a cost of $8 million, and inspired an entire book about that debacle and others like it (“Not Since Carrie: 40 Years of Broadway Flops”). The new version, rejiggered and improved (one assumes), will be opening in previews at the Lucille Lortel Theatre January 31. Beware of flying cutlery!