Downtown Theater Roundup

Likely prospects for the lusty month of May

BY TRAV S.D.

About April:

I’ll start by taking the gloves off. I found the Public Theater’s much-ballyhooed production of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” (extended through May 30th) to be simple-minded, moronic, tuneless and possessed of the laughable and erroneous thesis that hipsters have some sort of moral and intellectual edge over the admittedly imperfect people who pioneered America. I found the show approximately as pleasurable as a scalping (receiving end).

By way of contrast, Target Margin’s “The Really Big Once” at the Ontological Theatre (closing May 8th) hit the bull’s eye. Their meditation on Elia Kazin’s and Tennessee Williams’ artistic struggles with the flawed play “Camino Reale” was complex, enigmatic, wise, and illuminating about both art and human relationships. Drawn largely from primary documents, the non-linear piece delivers surprises at a rate roughly of about one a minute. The crack ensemble hit all their marks throughout a very complicated obstacle course without breaking a sweat, playing multiple characters within director David Herskovits’s space-time collage. With each of the five actors at times taking on the roles of both Kazin and Williams, we begin to get the sense that their struggle is a universal one — much like the one I face when I try to write these columns.

On the lighter side, for pure enjoyable confection, I recommend “Sextacular! Sextacular!” at 45 Bleecker (currently scheduled through June 25th). Co-hosted by director/designer/impresario Joey Nova (producer of shows at the Slipper Room, Cake Shop et al.) and Erika Smith (who plays a sort of Tinkerbelle to his Peter Pan), this odd hybrid of a thingy is what happens when you smash glam-rock (provided by Starbolt 9), Moulin-Rouge, downtown burlesque and circus performers, and a plot to get the government to create a new holiday in honor of Getting It On. The four-way marriages gives birth to such wonderfully “different” step-children as The Suffragette City Strumpets, who do the can-can to the twang of electric guitars. Needless to say, I approved.

Coming Your Way in May…

Kicking off the month on Cinco de Mayo is terraNOVA Collective’s soloNOVA Arts Festival, now in its seventh season. This annual festival has come to be regarded as THE indie theatre showcase for solo performers. Held once again at PS122, the producers promise eight different artists spanning “comedy, dance theatre, storytelling, music, multi-character thrillers, musical comedies, bilingual cabaret, animation, multimedia, and puppetry.

I’ll be paying particular attention to “Monster” — starring Avery Pearson (disclosure: he’s the wacko who played the Charles Manson-inspired character in my show “Willy Nilly”). In “Monster” he plays…a psychotic serial killer (and some other characters!). Buddy, either start meeting some healthier playwrights or get a new agent! Also of note is Kirk Wood Bromley’s “Remission” — a hit of last year’s New York International Fringe Festival — in which the poet-playwright collaborates with actor Dan Berkey It discusses the actor’s real-life struggles with schizophrenia and various addictions.

Also, I think I would be remiss in duties as a breathing human if I neglected “Puppy Love: A Stripper’s Tail” (sic), about a woman who leaves her job at Chuck E. Cheese to become an exotic dancer. I note in passing that the publicity materials promise a lesbian love affair and pole dancing. The festival runs May 5th through 22nd. For more info, go to www.ps122.org or 212-352-3101.

Another promising-sounding solo piece is Cynthia Hopkins’ “The Truth: A Tragedy” opening at Soho Rep on May 6th. Sui generis singer-performance artist Hopkins is always interesting. The current piece grabbed my attention not because of the “tragedy of one man’s life” it promises to tell, but because it is accompany by its own special museum exhibition of “artifacts and oddities.” Whether hairballs from the stomach of a cow are among them, I don’t know, but whatever it is it’s bound to be more interesting than a show that DOESN’T have its own museum exhibition. Also, selected shows are followed by panel discussions on the nature of truth and its relation to psychology and art. I, for one, am there! The show runs through May 30th. Learn more at www.sohorep.org and 212-941-8632.

If all these solo shows are making you lonely, then perhaps you would prefer to spend time among the “Uprising of the 20,000.” In honor of the 100th anniversary of that historic garment workers strike (give or take a few months), Downtown Art will be presenting “The Waistmakers Opera” — an original (and environmental) musical theatre piece that begins at the site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory (famously destroyed by a fire that killed 146 garment workers, mostly young girls), and will proceed through the streets like a protest march until it reaches a lot on East 3rd Street, where the final act takes place. The cast of 18 girls is composed of teenagers; Downtown Art’s mission is to make theatre with kids. The production runs May 8th through 30th, and you can learn more about it at www.downtownart.org or 212-479-0885.

Another educational journey though the “built environment” is Oren Safdie’s “The Bilbao Effect” at that well-known theatre venue The Center for Architecture. As might be gleaned from the title of the play and where its being shown, the play is rather architect-o-centric, concerning a renegade architect and a woman he drives to suicide with his mad “designs” (ha ha ha, ew!). If you think such a thing is necessarily boring, remember the boiling sexual overtones in “The Fountainhead,” and the fact that it ends with a guy exploding his own building (the result looked, well, sort of like a Frank Gehry design, as I recall). I don’t promise any of that will happen in this play. But just remember, friends, controversial architecture has caused riots — riots! “The Bilbao Effect” is at The Center for Architecture May 12th through June 6th. For tickets and info, call 212-352-3101 or visit www.theatermania.com.

If you can’t handle the brick and mortar scene, perhaps “Orifice Descending” by outrageous drag chanteuse Vaginal Davis is more your speed. Davis is one of those humans who does everything (I mean sings, acts, writes, smart-aleck), but this new production, opening May 15th at P.S. 122 may be too much even for me. The piece, inspired by Jean Genet’s “The Balcony,” is said to be “set in a male brothel or ‘boydello’ where the audience will interactively explore the notion of gender as a continuum and not a binary model.” Just how they will do that is not explained, although I do hope they will have some sort of referee or lifeguard on duty. I think this may be one of those shows, YOU’LL have to go see and report back to ME! “Orifice Descending” will be at PS 122 May 15-30, for more info., visit www.ps122.org 212-352-3101.

Lastly, May 17th, one of my pet causes — The Theatre Museum — will have its annual benefit at The Players Club. Hosted by actor Richard Kind and chaired by producer Stewart Lane, it’ll be an entertaining way to support a worthy cause. Tickets at: www.thetheatremuseum.org.

That’s all for now!

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