Times were tough in the old neighborhood.
Slices of East Village life from Pegleg to Purple
By Lincoln Anderson
Currently enjoying a two-and-a-half-week run through Feb. 11 at The Annex Theatre at La MaMa on E. Fourth St., Once There Was a Village takes its inspiration from Yuri Kapralovs book of the same name about the late 1960s East Village.
A collage-like work, it was written and directed by Vit Horejs, artistic director of the Czechoslovak American Marionette Theatre. Although the spirit of the late Kapralovs book was his departure point, Horejss sweeping creation evolved into his own take on the history of the East Village and Lower East Side, starting with the Dutch West India Company and Peter Stuyvesant and colored by successive waves of immigration.
The show features novel performance-art pieces, such as, in one early scene, kneeling actors opening and closing suitcases over their heads. Horejs later explained that these represented swamp creatures that inhabited the formerly marshy areas east of Avenue A. But if audience members interpret these figures differently this writer, for one, thought they were giant clams evoking immigrants transatlantic crossing its O.K., said Horejs smiling gently, not uptight about what viewers may find in his work.
A recurring theme is throat cutting, with razor-wielding actors slicing each others necks, sometimes forming a virtual conga line of bloodthirsty killers, symbolizing the merciless New World. A scaffold stands in for the Sixth and B Gardens tower but at other times also a tenement building.
Descending via a blinking U.F.O., Adam Purple appears at a Community Board 3 meeting about his legendary Garden of Eden, with Purple bearing a suitcase full of golden treasure, carriage-horse manure from Central Park for fertilizer. In Horejss version, history is rewritten and the board votes to save Purples garden. Larger historical events, such as the Rosenbergs execution, are also worked into the drama.
Horejs, who emigrated from Prague, plays Kapralov, a refugee from the Caucasus Mountains who was the elder statesman of the East Villages bohemians until he died in 2005. There are some excellent individual performances, including singing by Deborah Beshaw and Kat Yew, among others. Brass band musical interludes are provided by the Hungry March Band.
Horejs met Kapralov when they both had studios in the former CHARAS/El Bohio arts center in the old P.S. 64 on E. Ninth St.
Its inspired, its my take on Yuri, Horejs said of his piece. I didnt want to just do the book. The whole frame is Yuri, but it has many, many layers.
The work is nearly two hours long, without intermission, and several viewers at a recent performance felt it could stand cutting by perhaps one-third. But they enjoyed it.
As one audience member put it, Its very Lower East Side.