Just Do Art, April 17, 2014

Michele Carlo speaks with a comedic voice as pure and refreshing as agua.  PHOTO BY JASON THOMPSON

Michele Carlo speaks with a comedic voice as pure and refreshing as agua. PHOTO BY JASON THOMPSON

BY SCOTT STIFFLER   |  MICHELE CARLO’S “FISH OUT OF AGUA” at THE NINTH ANNUAL ONE FESTIVAL  Overcautious children of helicopter parents and grown-ups afraid to follow your bliss, listen up. That woman firmly planted on a soapbox — literal and figurative — is Michele Carlo, and she’s about to unspool a gritty New York story that began back in the day when “the ‘D’ in Avenue D stood for Death…and Drugs. There was no Park Slope South or Williamsburg East or Harlem Light. My New York had junkies and bums and drunks, graffiti and garbage and punks.” Just the same, mothers sent their children out the door in the morning — unchaperoned — with explicit instructions not to return until supper, if even then. You’d think all that freedom of movement would make it easy to leave the old neighborhood and realize her dream of living the artist’s life. But nothing worth having was easy for this redheaded, freckle-faced, Puerto Rican girl from a top-floor tenement walkup in the Bronx.

Years later, Carlo put the whole story down on paper, in “Fish Out Of Agua: My Life On Neither Side of The (Subway) Tracks.” Recently, she performed excerpts from that book’s back half at a People’s Improv Theater workshop. The highlight was a touching but defiantly unsentimental connection of the dots between leaving her family and finding herself.

Barely making ends meet as a mid-90s Brooklyn resident, she draws a blank after summoning the courage to sign up for a Lower East Side open mic slot. The host comes on stage with much-needed words of encouragement, to no avail. Still unable to recall her jokey material, she launches into the tale of how a car accident on the way to her father’s burial forced her to deliver the eulogy with a wired jaw. The story resonates, in a way that no punchline-driven routine could ever hope to. In that moment, Carlo finds herself welcomed into the Downtown “performance comedy” scene, and in possession of a creative voice that sets the tone for better days to come.

The childhood through college section of Carlo’s 2010 memoir gets the stage adaptation treatment, in her upcoming appearance at The ONE [solo theater] Festival. In 30 minutes, you’ll hear about everything standing in the way of taking that 6 train into the future — including, according to the author’s own press, “her family, her neighborhood…and sometimes, herself.”

Wed., April 23 at 8pm & Sat., April 26 at 2pm. At the 4th Street Theatre (83 E. 4th St., btw. Bowery & Second Ave.). Purchase tickets ($20) at the door, or online at smarttix.com. For info on the artist, visit michelecarlo.com. For a full festival schedule: theonefestivalnyc.com.

“Everybody talks about the weather,” quipped Mark Twain, “but nobody does anything about it.” The same might be said for the general sense of loss that comes with each devolutionary shift of the Lower East Side’s demographic plate. Clayton Patterson leaving town and A Gathering of the Tribes closing down? Nobody can say what the ongoing residential and creative exodus means for the neighborhood — but at least somebody’s hard at work, year after year, making sure there’s a public record of their contributions.

Currently at the tail end of a season dedicated to exploring the theme of “Justice,” the Metropolitan Playhouse has always had our admiration for calling attention to forgotten American plays of the past. So it’s worth noting that once a year, their East Village Theater Festival documents the “ever-vital life and lore” of a neighborhood whose identity may be changing, but whose artistic spirit is still very much alive.

Crawford M. Collins and Dan Haft, in Armand Ruhlman’s East Village Chronicles play, “Resistance” — part of the East Village Theater Festival.  PHOTO BY JIM CHOW

Crawford M. Collins and Dan Haft, in Armand Ruhlman’s East Village Chronicles play, “Resistance” — part of the East Village Theater Festival. PHOTO BY JIM CHOW

Now through May 4, short plays and monologues will depict past and present life in the East Village, accompanied by a lobby exhibition of neighborhood photographs by Lower East Side native John Milisenda. The festival brings into alignment two series currently celebrating their 10th year: The East Village Chronicles and the Alphabet City Monologues. “Resistance” is one of the six short “Chronicles” plays. Written by East Village resident Armand Ruhlman and set in the early 2000’s, it’s still-timely theme concerns an eccentric group of artists and offbeats “feeling threatened by the predatory nature of New York.” The “Alphabet City” monologues are derived verbatim from conversations with local residents and performed by the interviewers. This year’s crop of six includes Sari Caine as Co-Founder and Artistic Director of Theater for the New City, Crystal Field and Amar Srivistava as L.E.S. Prepatory High School teacher Rian Keating.

Through May 4. Mon.-Sun. at 7pm, Sat./Sun. at 1pm & 4pm. At the Metropolitan Playhouse (220 E. Fourth St., btw. Aves. A & B). Tickets are $20, $15 for students/seniors, $10 for those under 18. To purchase, call 800-838-3006 or visit metropolitanplayhouse.org.

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