A Refreshingly Racy Roller Coaster Ride Through Fraught Terrain

L-R: Julie Atlas Muz, George Olesky, Meg MacCary and Austin Pendleton. | Photo by Marina McClure

BY TRAV S.D. | If the chef’s truism that good soup depends on good ingredients holds firm, then “City Girls and Desperadoes” has the right fixings. The new play by Pamela Enz co-stars award-winning stage and screen actor/director Austin Pendleton; world-renowned choreographer and neo-burlesque pioneer Julie Atlas Muz; and Obie award-winning Meg MacCary, co-founder and former co-artistic director of acclaimed Downtown theater company Clubbed Thumb. It also features an original score by Elliott Randall, a session guitarist best known for his solos on Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ in the Years” and the Irene Cara song, “Fame.” Others attached to the production include director Marina McClure, a resident director at The Flea Theater who came out of the Lincoln Center Directors Lab; and Julie Petrusak, artistic director of JP Dance Group, who designed original video projections.

Enz’s play, based on a true story, is about a man (Austin Pendleton) who falls in love with a woman (Julie Atlas Muz) who reminds him of a former lover, whose death he blames himself for. Complicating matters is the fact that he is married to yet another woman (Meg MacCary), who is getting awfully tired of waiting for what she believes is a phase to play itself out. Both Muz and Pendleton’s characters cope with grief and loneliness by snorting mountains and mountains of cocaine, supplied by a pair of lesbian drug dealers (Maria Fontanals and Vania Mendez). The play, not incidentally, is set in the late 1970s. This correspondent found the experience something like a combination of David Rabe’s “Hurlyburly” and Abe Burrows’ long-forgotten “Cactus Flower.”

According to Enz, the plot of “City Girls and Desperadoes” is based on a true story — a case where a couple argued before the woman drove off and died in a car accident. Later, like in something out of Hitchcock’s “Vertigo,” he met a woman who resembled the woman who he lost. “Everybody thinks, even he thinks, he’s in love with her because she looks like the dead woman,” Enz said. “But he falls in love with her and [that] makes him forget the dead woman, which is something his wife has been trying to do for years.”

According to Enz, Pendleton — well-known for his turns in movie classics like “What’s Up, Doc?” and “The Muppet Movie,” his many Broadway roles (including originating the part of Motel in the original production of “Fiddler on the Roof”), and scores of productions he’s directed in New York and regionally — has been “generous and supportive,” and “a consistent champion of the piece.”

A bloody good time is guaranteed. L-R: Vania Mendez, George Olesky, Maria Fontanels, Julie Atlas Muz and Austn Pendleton. | Photo by Marina McClure

Co-star Muz has had a high profile lately as well, mostly recently directed her husband Mat Fraser’s Christmas panto, “Jack and the Beanstalk” (due in no small part to the strength of that production at Abrons Arts Center, the pair were named 2017 “New Yorkers of the Year,” a New York Times reader-nominated honor). While best known as a dancer and choreographer, Muz is terrific as the woman of Pendleton’s obsession. Enz aptly describes her as “a dynamic mixture of the cerebral and the sensual.”

Intertwined with the tapestry of human interaction is the audio/video-scape devised by Randall and Petrusak. Said Enz, “As the play was being birthed, Elliot and [Petrusak] came together and created the home in which it could live — evocative without words, and viscerally quite powerful… Our colleague Ève Laroche-Joubert said so smartly that Ms. Petrusak [who has evolved from choreographing dance] was now simply choreographing images through space.”

Readers should be advised that the production contains copious nudity and simulated sex acts which, on top of the rampant drug depictions, make for a refreshingly racy night of theater. Played without intermission, “City Girls and Desperadoes” is a roller coaster ride through fraught terrain and a highly recommended chance to see world-class theater artists do their thing.

Through April 8 at Theater for the New City (155 First Ave., btw. E. Ninth & 10th Sts.). Thurs. through Sat. at 8pm; Sun. at 3pm. For tickets ($18; $12 for students/seniors), call 212-254-1109 or visit theaterforthenewcity.net.

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