Reading Room

VOLUME 3, ISSUE 309 | February 26 – March 3, 2004

Curtain Call

ALICE IN WONDERLAND Bill Osco, the salacious writer/producer/director is back with his first play, an Off-Broadway musical adaptation of 1977’s wicked “Alice in Wonderland,” which re-imagines Alice as a sexual neophyte on a titillating journey of self-discovery and carnal knowledge. This musical comedy is prescribed for “mature audiences” due to “full nudity.” Alice lives with her boozed-up mamma in a trailer park in Weehawken, New Jersey. Wearing a white halter top and skimpy low-rise cut-offs, Alice dreams that a giant Rabbit (Kris Kloss) lures her into his drug-filled domain of iniquity, as she dozes while reading––what else–– “Alice in Wonderland. ” In “Wonderland,” all the denizens are oversexed and eager to debauch. The Jewish hashish-smoking Caterpillar teaches Alice how to give a mean hand job and rewards her with a palmful of green spooge. The Mad Hatter, whose schlong is even bigger than his top hat, entices Alice to orally pleasure him. The Cheshire “Pussy” is a voracious lesbian. The King, is a well-oiled, perky-nippled hunk with miles of muscles. Note to the sex-starved: although there are gobs of sexual situations, don’t expect to be aroused in any big way. Kirk Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St., 212 239 6200. (D. Kennerley)

BANJEE Men having sex with men who don’t consider themselves gay are a familiar phenomenon in black and Latino neighborhoods. This is an entertaining and titillating dark comedy about two childhood friends from a Latino neighborhood who by day live heterosexual lives with their girlfriends and by night turn tricks at La Belle Vie, a sleazy hustler bar. The two male leads are lazy and uneducated, personal shortcomings that lead them to sell their bodies. Bisexual Tony (Will Sierra) introduces his straight friend Angel (Indio Meléndez) to the world of hustling gay men. All the while, Angel claims to hate hustling, justifying it as an alternative to drug dealing. Angel lives with his infant daughter and girlfriend Marlena (Marilyn Torres), who thinks her boyfriend works as a night security guard in Brooklyn. Tony has an on-and-off relationship with Ileana (Iris Aay-Almonte), a loud, ghetto- fabulous fashion plate on welfare who looks down on Dominicans like Tony. A carelessly misplaced matchbook from La Belle Vie raises the women’s suspicions about their boyfriends, leading to confrontations that force all the main characters to make choices about their lives, not all of which are good decisions. Wings Theatre, 54 Christopher St., 212 627 2961. (E. Garcia)

AUNT DAN AND LEMON Wallace Shawn’s play challenges us to face our complicity in our government’s aggressions. Narrated by Lemon (Lili Taylor), a Londoner, as a remembrance of her latently lesbian childhood relationship with her parents’ glamorous friend, Aunt Dan (Kristen Johnston), the play jars our comfort philosophically and in its style of presentation. Aunt Dan, “one of the youngest Americans to ever teach at Oxford,” is obsessed with Henry Kissinger. She defends his murderous policies in Vietnam in lusty, comically shocking speeches. Under Aunt Dan’s lingering influence, the grown Lemon, a reclusive with an eating disorder, spends her days reading about, and developing sympathies toward, the Nazis. Among the most disturbing and resonant elements of the play are its treatment of gender and sexuality. Putting fascistic philosophies in the mouths of females, Shawn’s uses gender to disenfranchise the audience of its easy notions of aggressive masculinity versus pacifist femininity. The only real action onstage is a woman’s murder-for-hire of a man. The playwright might as well have been describing our contemporary situation, with the depressing dissipation of today’s anti-war movement and the relative muting of the Left. Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd St., 212 239 6200. (E. Andrews)

DOÑA ROSITA, THE SPINSTER The abiding power of the plays of Frederico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936) has always been their poeticism. Lorca’s plays use classic structures to explore modern issues, very often the tragedies of abandonment, disillusionment, and despair, played out against a changing social order. Rosita is a woman who has promised to marry the man she loves. Before he marries her, however, he must leave to take care of family business a far away. He promises to come back, and Rosa says she’ll wait. And wait she does, for 25 years, hiding from the truth that he will never return by staying locked in her home so she can pretend that time is not passing, that “the day he comes back will be like the first day he was gone.” The first act is a relatively direct treatise on the power of love, in which Rosita promises herself to her second cousin. The second, which centers on a discussion of “the language of flowers,” explores how we as humans use abstraction to avoid direct expression of truth. And the third is a grim reminder that no matter what barriers of artifice we have built, at some point the real truth of life—death, decay, and loss—must inevitably be confronted. Jean Cocteau Repertory, 330 Bowery, 212 677 0060. (C. Byrne)

CAROLINE, Or CHANGE The world premiere musical by composer Jeanine Tesori and gay playwright Tony Kushner is full of pulsating ideas, inventive conceits––a singing moon, a crooning washing machine––and politically-minded rants. “Caroline’s” creators nonetheless forgot one very important thing: to tell a story. The script focuses on Noah Gellman (Harrison Chad), a sensitive eight-year-old Jewish boy imbued with an uncanny maturity, as he carries on an odd love-hate friendship with Caroline (Tonya Pinkins), his family’s frosty 39-year-old black maid. The sorrowful Caroline has the weight of the world on her shoulders. Still hurting from the death of her husband and besieged by financial woes, she struggles to make sense of a rapidly changing world that finds her friends dressing provocatively, her children sassing back at white folks, and her president assassinated. Only in the play’s final moments, when Caroline realizes she must adapt to her new world or risk being lost within it, does the play finally expose its affecting message of despair and expectation. The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St., 212 260 2400. (E. Piepenburg)

THE COOK Eduardo Machado, the man who wrote this play, and two dozen other sensitive, pointed dramas including “Cuba and the Night” and “Havana Is Waiting,” was himself flown out of Havana, at age 9, in 1962, by the “Peter Pan” airlift, thanks to the desire of his parents that their children should not grow up under Fidel Castro. He has been back three times, all three since 1999. “The Cook,” which has done so well at the Intar Theater on West 53rd Street that it’s been extended into January, came out of the second of those three visits, in the summer of 2001. “I was going to write a play about prostitutes, male and female, there in Havana,” Machado said, “but I found them really boring after about a day of their telling me their stories. There was this place I would go to eat, a restaurant in the kitchen of a large house. I noticed on the wall a picture of a blonde woman, obviously from the 1950s. “I asked the woman who ran the restaurant––a woman in her 70s––who that was. She said: ‘That is the woman who owned this house, the woman I worked for,’ but she would not tell me anything more, or anything about herself. Except that one day she sent me a plate of tamales, and said: ‘This is the last proof of the native cuisine of the indigenous people who used to live here.’ “It is she, this woman who ran that restaurant, who represents Cuba––she, not the prostitutes. A lovely, poised woman––and that’s what I like about Zabryna’s performance.” Zabryna Guevera plays Gladys the cook, and she is, yes, poised and lovely and volatile all mixed up into one. Maggie Bofill plays both Adria and Adria’s daughter. Jason Madera is Carlos and Jason Quarles is Julio. Nilaja Sun plays two supporting roles, and the perhaps somewhat indulgent director in charge of all of them is Michael John Garcés “I wanted to write a play about people who just lived there through the whole revolution and were not political at all––or, yes, could be political or not, just the way we are. This was also a good way to talk about American foreign policy”––that is, the now perpetual U.S. embargo of Castro’s Cuba. The play addresses homosexuality and the fate of Julio, the cook’s flashy, scared young cousin. “No,” said Machado, “I have never before written about this.” Well, he once had, but that was more than 20 years ago, way back in 1982 when he wrote his very first play, “Faviola,” one of four by him that went as a package to the Ensemble Studio Theater. Intar Theatre, 508 W. 53rd St., 212 695 6134, ext 11. (J. Tallmer)

HOUSE OF NO MORE It’s hard to keep up with Caden Manson. A conversation with the out gay director of the category-defying Big Art Group quickly becomes a torrent of print-worthy ideas and insights on everything from the fluidity of sexuality to the joys of growing up in the South. The only point on which he was spare in his words came when asked what’s so gay about his new show. “Everything’s gay,” he said with a laugh. In his latest piece, “House of No More,” Manson and his company tell the story of a woman named Julia, who is chasing after her missing daughter amid a “maze of lies, deceit, and catastrophe,” according to a press release. Manson, however, said that’s “a lie.” “The meaning of the show, or any of my shows, lies in between what is done and what it is,” he explained. “I don’t usually talk about what a show’s about because if I could do it in a sentence, I wouldn’t do the show.” On stage the performers are layered among live video to create real-time film projected across the stage. As actors pass between screens set up on stage, they often change genders or race in a matter of seconds. “Often people look at my show like it’s a movie, but I try to make it a copy of a movie,” Manson said. “It’s kind of a copy of a copy of a copy of a movie. Things get exaggerated. Things bleed away.” It’s that kind of genre-jumping and envelope-pushing, especially when it comes to color-blind and gender-blind casting and characterization, that gives much of Manson’s work its allure. “In New York we have a cult audience. They keep coming back,” he said. “It’s not like theater. We don’t work in that structure. The reviews can be bad, but it doesn’t matter because people keep returning.” Performance Space 122, 150 First Ave., 212 477 5288 (E. Piepenburg)

The Musical of Musicals—The Musical! As the lights go up (there is no curtain) the stage is bare; the only element that might qualify as the “set” is a piano. But it’s not a grand piano—it’s one of those uprights, whose ugly unfinished wooden posterior glares at the audience.How fitting for a parody of various Broadway musical genres that strives to strip those eager-to-please extravaganzas of their artifice to expose a not-so-glamorous underbelly. But is it enough? “The Musical of Musicals” is a series of five deliriously twisted segments that are riffs on the same basic story, each done in the trademark style of Broadway über-meisters, from Jerry Hermann to Sondheim. This capriciously droll production thrusts these icons on a skewer one by one, rubs in plenty of salt, and roasts gently over a hot, merciless fire. All with a sinister grin. The cast consists of only four members, who double as the chorus. The Playbill snidely reminds us that understudies never appear “because there aren’t any.” Luckily, these performers unfurl enough talent to fill a Broadway stage. Well, a small Off-Broadway stage, anyway. Characters remain constant, though their names morph slightly to suit each style. Lovette George performs the distressed June character (aka Jeune, Junie Faye, Junita, Juny) with a keen balance of sweetness and pluck. The hapless hero roles (Billy, William, etc.) are well played by the energetic Craig Fols. As the wise, been-around-the-block older woman (Mother Abby, Auntie Abby, etc.), Bogart is hilarious. And it’s a hoot to watch Rockwell portray the villainous roles, all the while pounding away behind that piano. If this all sounds exceedingly silly, well, that’s the point. But it’s also relentlessly smart. It’s a game to see how many references to Broadway shows you can identify—even more fun than finding “Nina’s” embedded in a Hirschfeld illustration. Director Pamela Hunt paces the action briskly, which makes for few lulls between the laughs. Jokes are hurled so fast and furious they’re not always easy to catch. New York Theater Company, 619 Lexington Ave. 212 868 4444 (D. Kennerley)

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