Stagenotes: February 2006

GREY GARDENS: A NEW MUSICAL

Grey Gardens: A New Musical is based on the classic documentary film by the Maysles Brothers, which tells the tale of two once-wealthy socialites, Edith Bouvier Beale and her adult daughter, Edie (an aunt and cousin of Jackie O.), who lived out their later years as eccentric recluses in a decaying East Hampton mansion. Scott Frankel, who originally conceived of turning the documentary into a musical, wrote the music, and brought in Doug Wright (I Am My Own Wife) to do the book, and his frequent collaborator Michael Korie to write the lyrics. Rent's Michael Greif directs, and the cast is led by Chrstine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson.

Of his decision to make a musical version of the film, explains Frankel, "I thought these women were such exhibitionists and natural performers, the mother had a beautiful soprano voice and the daughter was a dancer." He goes on, "It's also an incredible mother-daughter story; they re-hash the past, argue with each other, and try to make sense of things."

Act one is set in 1941, when the women were still young and beautiful. Two child actors play Jackie and her sister, Lee Radizwill, at ages 11 and 13, respectively. The second act flash-forwards to 1973; the set is in fragments, gone to seed. According to Frankel, the overriding question of the play is: "They were American royalty, how could this happen to them?"

Playwrights Horizons Mainstage Theater, 416 W. 42nd St., (212) 279-4200. Previews Feb. 3, opens Feb. 26-Mar. 12. Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m. $65.

LENNY BRUCE... IN HIS OWN WORDS

Created verbatim from the master satirist's original routines, Lennie Bruce... In His Own Words is written and directed by Joan Worth and Alan Sacks, and stars Bruce look-alike Jason Fisher. "Our goal is to introduce everyone to the brilliance of Lenny Bruce, which we do in the first act, where Jason does most of Lenny's famous bits," explains Worth, "and in the second act, we show what happened to him, and the injustice of shutting him up."

Before there were social commentary comedians like Richard Pryor, George Carlin and Bill Hicks, there was Bruce. "Back in the early '60s, he was talking about an 'obnoxious war' and racial discrimination," adds Sacks, "One routine is called 'How Hitler Got Started,' but it's really a take-off on how talent agencies like MCA controlled show business." Another routine, still relevant today, is called "Religions, Inc.," wherein Bruce imagines all of America's top religious leaders coming up with a joint plan to run religions along the lines of "big business." In "The Last Crucifixion," Bruce, who was arrested 19 times on "obscenity" and drug-related charges, visualizes himself as the "good thief," alongside Jesus.

Zipper Theatre, 336 W. 37th St., (212) 239-6200. Previews Jan. 30, opens Feb. 1 - 25. Mon.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Fri. & Sat., 8 & 10 p.m. $30-$40.

BACK OF THE THROAT

In Back of the Throat, a black comedy about civil liberties and racial profiling, written by Arab-American playwright Yussef El Guindi, and directed by Jim Simpson, an Arab-American is visited by two government officials in the wake of a terrorist attack. One understands the significance of the play's title early on when an agent mispronounces the suspect's name, "Khaled." After being corrected, the agent remarks, "Oh yeah, it's that back of the throat thing."

"It's a little like Kafka's The Trial," says director Simpson, "because no matter what you say, it's very difficult to prove utter innocence." For example, Khaled owns a copy of the Koran and other Arab books, and he has done research on terrorism. Circumstantial "evidence" involving the library he uses and an ex-girlfriend don't help his case either. One of the central themes of the play, explains Simpson, is that in these times, "if you are an Arab-American, the personal is political." He continues, "What the playwright is trying to say is: How would you act if 'they' came to your door? And would they find anything in your apartment that would make you a suspect?"

The Flea, 41 White St., (212) 352-3101. Feb. 2-Mar. 8. Schedule varies. $20.

CONFESSIONS OF A MORMON BOY

An inspiring and humorous true story, Confessions of a Mormon Boy is written and performed by the actual "Mormon boy" to whom these events happened, Steven Fales. Tony Award winner Jack Hofsiss (The Elephant Man) directs the play, which won the "Overall Excellence Award" at the 2004 New York Fringe Festival.

"This play is my contribution to end spiritual abuse," says Fales, "and it's happening in all our churches, anytime you're told that you're not worthy of God's love or his blessing." The show deals with Fales's 2000 trial and "judging" by a panel of 12 Mormon officials, and his subsequent excommunication from the Mormon Church, for being a homosexual.

Fales, a sixth generation Mormon born in Provo, Utah, had done everything "right" up until that point: He served his two-year ministry, married in the temple, and he and his wife had two children, a boy, now 10, and a girl, 8. By a quirk of fate, his mother-in-law, also a Mormon, married a man who was gay, and she wrote a best-selling book about her gay husband and their life within the Mormon religion. When Fales came out 20 years later, he and his wife thought they could write a different story. "But we failed," he says, "I took my pain and anger and confusion to New York City, and I self-destructed." He worked for an escort service, got into drugs, and then somehow reclaimed his life. "Between the super-duper Mormonism, and the super-duper hedonism, I found a middle-ground that worked, to become a good father."

Soho Playhouse, 15 Vandam St., (212) 691-1555. Previews Jan. 27, opens Feb. 5. Mon, Wed., Thurs, & Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m. $50 & $55.

THE MAYOR OF BALTIMORE

The Mayor of Baltimore is a new musical, written by the Brooklyn performer/playwright Kristin Kosmas, who has had numerous plays produced across the U.S., and who also co-founded the essential Little Theater monthly performance series at Tonic. The clear-minded director, Kip Fagan, guides the script's 15 characters.

"Margaret has been elected to some sort of low-level governmental office that's not 'the mayor of Baltimore'," says Fagan, "so she has some of her friends over for a celebratory party; and how the play functions is how a party functions." We learn, among other things, that John is in love, Shelly's enraged, and Tyrone's drunk, while Annelie lectures and Lila expounds. According to Fagan, for the audience, the experience of sitting through this play is not unlike attending a party. "Say you're at a party," he says, "and have had a few drinks; there's a lot of people in the room and it's 3 a.m., and you're alone and not talking to anyone at the time, but you listen to the party, and you watch people interact, and sometimes the language of the party washes over you -- you'd have a good idea how this play works." And, for a plot point, he adds, "Margaret gives this nice little party to celebrate her victory, but the party takes over, and I'm not sure Margaret is pleased about that."

Dixon Place, 258 Bowery, (212) 219-0736, ext. 110. Feb. 17, 18, 25, 26. Call for times. $10, $12 & $15.

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