Stagenotes: September 2007

Stagenotes September 2007 Theater Reviews: Five From Broadway to Way-Off Broadway Tom Murrin


A big hit at last summer's New York Fringe Festival, Walmartopia the Musical!, created by Catherine Capellaro (book) and her husband, Andrew Rohn (music and lyrics), and directed by Daniel Goldstein, is an irreverent and hopeful satire that sends up the world's largest company. "We take much artistic license," says Capellaro, "It's a fun, campy science-fiction musical." Her plot focuses on two Walmart "associates" (which is how Walmart refers to its employees), Vicki and her daughter, Maia, drafted into a corporate musical, who use the forum to tell the shareholders about the horrible conditions that they and their fellow employees are faced with. The company executives don't want to hear about it (as an actual current sex discrimination class action brought by 1.6 million female employees will attest to), and Walmart's mad scientist, the fictional Dr. Normal, puts Vicki and Maia in his time portal and transports them to 2037, where they discover a world completely dominated by Walmart. Even the federal government has re-located to Bentonville, Arkansas. Eleven performers play 40 characters and they are joined by a five-person live band. In the show's curtain number, according to Rohn, "Vicki and Maia finally get through to the world of the future that they have lost something of their humanity by giving up all their space to a big company -- the last number is called 'Thinking Outside The Big Box'."

Minetta Lane Theatre, 18 Minetta Lane, (212) 307-4100. Previews Aug. 21, opens Sept. 3. Tues-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; matinees are Sat. & Sun., 3 p.m. $45, $65.


Director Yehuda Duenyas, a founding member of the iconoclastic, award-winning National Theater of the United States of America, is known for mounting shows which have a style and playfulness all their own. For this piece, he has rented a former peep show/DVD shop on Park Row, across from City Hall. "We're building an 18th century theater in the store window. The audience of 25 sits in the beautiful little theater, facing the window," Duenas explains, adding, "the curtains part, and they look out through the glass onto the street" -- to whatever madness he has planned. About 100 artists/performers are expected to participate. There will be aerialists, modern dancers, DJs and costume parades. There will be short performances, from theater groups like Radio-Hole. And of course, there will be pedestrians. "The piece is made to interact with the public," he says, "however, there will be a structure; a beginning, a middle and an end, and a syncopation of events." Part of the fun is that there will be multiple things going on at the same time, like video artists projecting their work onto the trees in City Hall Park. Audience members will be given opera glasses to hone in on things that are far away. Each performance is designed to last one hour.

38 Park Row (between Beekman and Spruce Sts.). Sept. 11-15, two shows per night, 7 & 9 p.m.


The always sharp Keen Company offers the 25th anniversary of A.R. Gurney's play that ran for 18 months when first done in 1982. "It's about a dining room, in many different houses, in many different families, over a period of years -- from the Depression to the early '80s," says director Jonathan Silverstein. The play is made up of 18 different scenes, which all overlap. "The dining room itself is the main character in the play,” says Silverman. While the premise may sound abstract, the play is actually very down to earth. Six top-notch actors play 57 roles, and what unfolds in the dining room is an overview of what happened in America during those years, to a certain class of people: White Anglo-Saxon Protestants in the northeastern United States, a sub-set that Gurney is very familiar with and has focused on in his 40 years of playwriting. There are scenes of birthday parties, holidays, breakfasts and love affairs. And what happens over the course of the play in the various dining rooms shows the changes in the values and mores of this class of people. When Gurney first met with the actors -- who play roles that range in age from 6 to 80 -- he showed them how the parts were divided up in the original cast. "We did it the same way," says Silverstein, "the roles were democratically divided; everyone gets to do great roles, no one has a stand-out role."

The Clurman Theater at Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd St., (212) 279-4200. Previews Sept. 11, opens Sept. 20-Oct. 14. Tues., 7 p.m.; Weds.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. $40.


If you saw the documentary, The Aristocrats, about the many ways comedians tell a particularly gross sex joke, then you saw Billy the Mime do his show-stopping, face-and-body-movements-only version. Well, that's not all he does. He played to sold-out houses at last year's Fringe Festival, doing outrageous mime routines with titles like "The Priest and the Altar Boy,” "The Abortion" and "Terry Schiavo, Adieu." Right away you know this isn't Marcel Marceau leaning into the wind. His shows have been called "crude" and "chilling,” but he may just be giving mime a good name. "First off, let me say that this show is for ages 17 and over," says Billy, "and second, I hate most mimes too. And that's because most of them are either not trained well, so they have no technique, or they continue to do stale routines." Plus, a lot of them are not funny and/or interesting to watch. "What I've done with mime is to explore areas that haven't been done before." In one of his routines, "Thomas & Sally: A Night at Monticello,” Billy sets the scene with our country's founding father, Thomas Jefferson, having a sophisticated dinner party at his Virginia plantation, with dining, dancing and fine wines; but in between the festivities, Jefferson sneaks out to the slave quarters to have sex with Sally Hemmings. "It's very graphic," he says, "I play the violin, I have the sex."

The Flea, 41 White St., (212) 352-3101. Aug. 23-Sept. 29. Tues. & Wed., 7 p.m.; Thurs. & Sat., 7 & 10 p.m. $35 & $45.


When Jibz Cameron, who goes by the name of Dynasty Handbag, performed "The Quiet Storm" at Dixon Place this summer, she carried on a hilarious conversation with herself, via tape recordings, wrapped herself up in a curtain to sing a song and created a crew of provokers out of five or six plastic bags that lay crumpled on the floor and started talking to her. Her work is quirky, smart, sensual and strange. Her latest show, Deep Feelings, "is going to be thematically about intimacy," says Cameron, "there will definitely be interpretations of modern love songs." She related a story she'd heard, which seemed to be both amusing and inspiring to her, about Willie Nelson supposedly pulling Jessica Simpson's leg, telling her the song "Crazy" was originally titled "Stupid,” and that the lyrics went: "I'm stupid for crying/ I'm stupid for trying/ I'm stupid for loving you." Also for this show she plans some "video interaction," where previously her "other voices" (which actually are her own) were all on tape. It’s quite an uncannny experience when she carries on these conversations with these other, disembodied voices. It's like an inner-spirit ventriloquism; the exchanges are real, her timing is perfect. "It has to be right on, you can't be anywhere but in the moment," she says. "The whole idea of the Dynasty Handbag character is one who doesn't interact with reality, or real people. Everything has to come from her imagination," she explains; adding, "the character is like an emotional landscape, not a real person. It's all symbolism, someone for things to be bounced off of."

Dixon Place, 258 Bowery, (212) 219-0736. Sept. 14, 15, 21, 22 at 8 p.m. and added, Sept. 28 & 29 at 10 p.m. $12-$15.

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