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In a scene from “White Like Me: A Honky Dory Puppet Show,” Paul Zaloom and his ventriloquist figure Butch Manly wrangle over race and ethnic identity in an epic battle of the wits…and half-wits.
Downtown theater, during the ‘lusty month,’ dumbfounds and dazzles
BY TRAV S.D. | No, no, I’m not dancing around the MayPole, I just got my arm tangled in this tether ball…so don’t mind me. While I stay here and try to extricate myself, please, you kids, run along and see some Downtown theatre. Here, I’ll even hand you my list of handpicked favorites!
Fans of Theater for the New City (TNC) will be glad to hear about “155 First Avenue (The Epic Adventures of the Theater for the New Synzgy).” TNC is celebrating its 25th year at its present First Avenue location, and in commemoration they are presenting this thinly fictionalized fable the story of its address past, present and future. When I say past, I mean way past. The characters include Peter Stuyvesant (whose farm this block used to be on), Walt Whitman, Yiddish actress Molly Picon and a pushcart peddler from the building’s first incarnation as a retail market. The show was written by Toby Armour (author of the award-winning “Fanon’s People”) and directed by George Ferencz, whose many notable productions include a recent revival of “Tooth of Crime” with Ray Wise at La MaMa, and the world premiere of Jean-Claude van Itallie’s “Fear Itself” at TNC. Ferencz also directed the first production presented at TNC at its current space. What goes around comes around! “155 First Avenue” runs May 3-20. For information and tickets, go to theaterforthenewcity.net.
Also opening on May 3 is “Desperately Seeking the Exit,” Peter Michael Marino’s solo show that recounts various misadventures in London, including the rise and fall of his West End musical version of “Desperately Seeking Susan,” featuring the music of Blondie. Gee, that musical doesn’t sound so bad. I’d almost rather see it than his solo show, but apparently it cost $4 million to produce. Something tells me the current show made it to the stage for less. It’s directed by the great John Clancy, co-founder of the New York International Fringe Festival, and is slated to be presented in Edinburgh this summer. “Desperately Seeking the Exit” is playing at Triple Crown Underground May 3-18. More info at seekingtheexit.com.
From May 5-24, the sprightly singer Carole J. Bufford, backed by the incomparable vintage jazz band Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, will be belting out the old school in a show she calls “Speak Easy.” On the set list, a roster of classics associated with the likes of Sophie Tucker, Al Jolson, Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, Helen Kane, etc, etc. This engagement is happening at Chelsea’s tasteful Metropolitan Room (metropolitanroom.com).
In contradistinction to taste, I remember “Saved by the Bell” (when I remember it at all) as one of the least funny un-television shows I ever wasted five minutes watching. Naturally, that’s just the sort of fodder that screams out for a parodistical (new word) musical treatment by Bob and Tobly McSmith, the team that previously gave us “JonBenet Ramsey: Murder Mystery Theatre.” Called “Bayside! The UnMusical!,” the current show is a revival of an original 2005 production — and from what I can glean online, they treat the subject matter with an appropriate amount of contempt and disrespect. For example, the character of Screech is played by a female stand-up comedian named Rachel Witz who seems to be crossing her eyes in every publicity shot. Just the sort of thing that makes theatre so superior to television! “Bayside! The UnMusical!” is playing at the Kraine Theater, May 9-19. Learn more at baysidetheunmusical.com.
If that doesn’t sound like a big enough atrocity for you, you might consider “Jack’s Back!” — the latest musical comedy about “Jack the Ripper,” being presented by T. Schreiber Studio at the Gloria Maddox Theater. In this revisionist take (come to think of it, they’re all revisionist since no one really knows what happened), the Ripper is foiled by a cockney sausage stuffer named Herbert Wingate. Songs by Tom Herman are promised to be a mix of “Broadway, operetta and vaudeville,” which will be mighty nice if it’s true! Previews start May 9, with a scheduled May 12-June 24 run. Tickets and info at tschreiber.org.
May 18-22, you’d have to be an ass to miss the first annual ASSdance Film Festival, the ambitious new underground arts event produced by ASS Studios, the demented brainchild of the legendary Rev. Jen and her boyfriend/collaborator Courtney Fathom Sell. It’s all to celebrate the May 22 release of their first DVD, which includes such ASS classics as “Killer Unicorn” (which Miller calls “a gay revenge fantasy starring people far too old to play teenagers”) and “Elf Workout!” (author/artist/performer is also, in case you didn’t know, a very well known Elf). Aside from their own movies, there’ll also be films and performances by Janeane Garofalo, Christian Finnegan and Faceboy. Events to take place at various locations, including Bowery Poetry Club and Pushcart Coffee. Visit bowerypoetry.com, revjen.com and assstudios.tumblr.com.
May 24 through June 10, at La MaMa, the fabulousness continues in “Jukebox Jackie: Snatches of Jackie Curtis,” starring Justin Vivian Bond, Bridget Everett, Cole Escola and Steel Burkhardt — in a show conceived and directed by Scott Wittman. Curtis was the gender-ambiguous Warhol Factory-ite immortalized by Lou Reed in “Walk on the Wild Side” as the one who “thought she was James Dean for a day.” Many credit her/him as one of the progenitors of Glam, so they’ve picked a fitting cast to make this tribute. We’re also promised special guests at certain performances, including Penny Arcade, Jayne County, Cherry Vanilla and Agosto Machado. For more info, lamama.org.
And last but hardly least, seminal puppeteering performance artist Paul Zaloom is back with a new solo show at Dixon Place, May 25-June 2. Called “White Like Me: A Honky Dory Puppet Show,” the piece, we’re informed, “employs the drawing room medium of toy theater to tell the story of the archetypical ‘white man’ and his universe. White-Man leaves his planet Caucazoid, travels through space, ‘civilizes’ the earth (populated with aliens), becomes a philanthropist and savior, and finally, freaks out about his approaching minority status.” I just love happy endings! More information at dixonplace.org.
See you next month!