Saturday, January 20, 2018

Meet your doom--maybe--with Split Britches at La MaMa

Above: Lois Weaver
Below: Peggy Shaw
Split Britches brings Unexploded Ordnances (UXO)
to La MaMa for its US premiere.
(photo: Matt Delbridge)

Unexploded Ordnances (UXO), a US premiere from famed lesbian theater duo Split Britches (Lois Weaver and Peggy Shaw), takes inspiration from Stanley Kubrick's political satire Dr. Strangelove (1964). It works from a similar wackadoodle take on the threat of nuclear disaster within reach of itchy Twitter--I mean, trigger--fingers. A top-flight general (Shaw) is stationed by a desk and computer monitor where he keeps track of time and apparently takes calls from gal pals. Weaver, referred to by Shaw as "Madame Mr. President Sir," initially slumbers at a far curve of circled "Situation Room" tables. They communicate via landline phones, although sometimes the phone rings, it's not Weaver, and Shaw breaks into randy old pop songs.

The situation at La MaMa, then, is less tense than Shaw's tracking of the countdown clock might suggest. Yes, the show itself must finish by the end of sixty minutes, but Billy Ward and the Dominoes's "60 Minute Man" is one of those randy songs, and there seems to be plenty of time for studly Shaw to bop out to that. Yes, something must be done about the impending doom we're trying to track on confusing overhead monitors, but there's lots of time to field a council of elders from among the oldest of us in attendance. And, no, although lined up with other greyheads, I failed to make the cut.

Directed by Weaver and written by the pair with Hannah Maxwell, the show contains clever text aligned like precision-cut puzzle pieces (best delivered by saucy Shaw) and room for whatever unpredictables the elders might bring to the table. (One woman seemed obsessed with the mysterious whereabouts of one Tiffany Ariana Trump, offspring of Marla Maples and POS...oops, I mean, POTUS. Now that I think about it, Tiff does seem to have been out of the public eye for a suspiciously long time...hmmm.)

Unexploded Ordnances (UXO) is more chuckle-provoking and captivating than Kubrick--well, of course! it's lesbian!--with the additional benefit of encouraging the audience to determine not only how the play will go but also, you gotta hope, how the rest of our lives will go. Folks came up with some really good stuff!

Part of The Public Theater's now-closed Under the Radar Festival, and originally scheduled to end last weekend, Unexplode Ordnances (UXO) fortunately continues tonight, Saturday, at 8pm and Sunday at 4pm. For information and tickets, click here.

La MaMa -- Ellen Stewart Theatre
66 East 4th Street (between Bowery and Second Avenue), Manhattan

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Friday, January 19, 2018

Kyoung's Pacific Beat presents "PILLOWTALK"

JP Moraga and Basit Shittu,
the stars of Kyoung H. Park's PILLOWTALK
(photo: andytoad)

If PILLOWTALK were a streamable series, I would so binge-watch it. This short two-hander written and directed by Kyoung Park (Kyoung’s Pacific Beat) has that all-essential factor that gets me every time--people I can give a damn about. That would be Buck (JP Moraga), an Asian-American journalist just fired from the job he hates anyway and who avoids telling this news to his super-practical husband Sam (Basit Shittu), a Black man and former competitive swimmer now working for a bunch of Republicans, the only job he says he was able to find. From beginning to end, and even through the inevitable tension and dissension, Moraga and Shittu subtly radiate the genuine, consistent humanity and appeal in their characters. The romance of Buck and Sam, two contemporary Brooklynites, reflects true complexity and sweet affection in equal measures. I believe in them and root for them.

Co-presented by Park's company and The Tank for The Exponential Festival, the show delves into issues of racism--even inside relationships between people of color--as well as economics, gentrification and political strategy. Most notably, Park probes the issue of how the fight for marriage equality might have robbed queer marginality of its unique, revolutionary bite. His tight, energized writing, deftly linking political and personal issues, contains no waste material. It's all hard at work all the time, and keeps both the actors and us viewers on our toes.

Setting up in the smaller of The Tank's two spaces contributes to our sense of the couple's vulnerability. The tiny black box space and its ingenious, minimalist decor (by Marie Yokoyama) suggest the cramped existence of real-life New Yorkers similar to Sam and Buck. When challenges emerge in this marriage, the men retreat to an even narrower slot of territory on opposite sides of the space, or one might flee the space entirely. Their apartment's un-cozy spatial constraints are as real a worry as the external, invading pressures from community and society. But we also feel the spirit of love in the air. And that's underscored by the final sequence, a pas de deux choreographed by Katy Pyle (of Ballez fame).

Moraga, whose character longs for a new career as a ballet dancer, more clearly resembles someone with ballet training (those feet, that line). I don't know about Shittu, and neither man's bio reveals a history with dance. But Pyle's work as the creator of the inclusive, queer-friendly ballez approach to classical dance upends what we expect, re-purposing and opening up all of ballet's strengths, beauty and fun to people of all genders. Her sequence for Sam and Buck strips away all the external and internal static and reveals what matters and what endures at the heart of this relationship.

Live music: Helen Yee
Sound design: Lawrence Schober
Scenic and lighting design: Marie Yokoyama
Costume design: Andrew Jordan
PILLOWTALK’s Long Table Series is curated by Shannon Matesky and Kyoung H. Park and each event will follow 15 minutes after each listed performance date. Last Long Table:
LOVE’S POWER/MICROINVISIBILITY (Thursday, January 25, 8pm) sheds light on the aggressions and invisibility of QPOC love. What are the spiritual and material dimensions of QPOC love? What are our acts of radical love? Facilitated by Stephanie Hsu with Guest Speakers Nic Kay, Kirya Trabor and more to be announced.
PILLOWTALK continues through Saturday, January 27. For information and tickets, click here.

The Tank
312 West 36th Street (between 8th and 9th Avenues), Manhattan

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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

"THIS" is what again? Adrienne Truscott at American Realness

Adrienne Truscott in THIS
(photo: Paul Goode)

Adrienne Truscott brought her adaptable THIS show to American Realness 2018 at Abrons Arts Center's Playhouse, and I caught that final performance on the night also marking AR's finale. The APAP conference, too, drew to its close Tuesday morning, although there are APAP-targeted festivities (PSNY's COIL shows; Under The Radar's added week for the great Split Britches duo) still going strong this week.

So, what exactly is THIS? And who exactly is Truscott?

The answer to both seems to be: A LOT. Also, probably, IT DEPENDS.

The woman has worked through numerous genres--from dance to writing to circus to cabaret and stand-up comedy--and THIS draws liberally from her history. Which is what makes it such a fun, elusive and magical this.

At Abrons, it started on a raw stage--look at that rough wall, that corrugated gate, the metal ladder in the corner, the stained paint cloth and other unidentifiable stuff littering the floor--with a rambunctious comic who might or might not be Truscott opening for Truscott, who is who we thought we had come to see and believe we're seeing but now might or might not be seeing because she says she's opening for Truscott who has worked really hard on what we're about to see. Anywho....

After issuing a warning about a blackout we're supposed to imagine that doesn't happen when she says it does but then happens when we think it won't, the unidentified opener is dropping sex-related jokes to varying degrees of success. ("Comedy and abortion have something in common.... Timing is everything.") Timing is important, too, to a stage
magician's sleight of hand, which is what THIS turns out to be. Anything can appear and disappear when we least expect it--elements of decor; running narratives that abruptly stop and run away back, then vanish again so you don't know where they were supposed to be taking you; a mechanical bird that flies prettily until...oh, doesn't; and a performer who sometimes hides behind scenery even as she continues to talk to us.

What to make of it? It's such a...such a...thing, this THIS, and the audience I sat among--mainly young, I noticed--loved it hard and answered it with a big roar.

If you did not see this THIS but you happen get another chance to see THIS, I suspect you will see a somewhat different THIS. But, no worries. You will see Truscott--trust--and she is always worth it, no matter who shows up onstage.

Writing and performance: Adrienne Truscott
Direction: Ellie Heyman
Sound/video/set design: Carmine Covelli
Light Design: Mary Ellen Stebbins

Closed. For general information on American Realness 2018, click here.

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Keorapetse Kgositsile, 79

Keorapetse Kgositsile, 79, South African Poet and Activist, Dies
by Giovanni Russonello, The New York Times, January 16, 2018

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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

American Realness: "We Wait In The Darkness" by Rosy Simas

Rosy Simas in her solo We Wait In The Darkness
(photo: Ian Douglas)

Rosy Simas Danse
We Wait In The Darkness (New York premiere)
co-presented by Abrons Arts Center and Gibney Dance for
American Realness 2018 at Abrons Arts Center

Recent scientific study verifies what many Native people have always known, that traumatic events in our ancestors lives are in our bodies, blood and bones. These events leave molecular scars adhering to our DNA. Our grandmother’s tragic childhood can trigger depression or anxiety in us, but we have the ability to heal these DNA encodings and change that trait for future generations.
--Rosy Simas 

For people of the Black African diaspora, too, these words from Minneapolis-based dance artist Rosy Simas (Seneca, Heron Clan) ring true, and I must begin with gratitude to Simas for work that illustrates the body as truth-teller and healer. We, too, are a people nurtured by connection to ancestors with tragic histories in this hemisphere, and many of us express reverence for ancestral heritage through powerful spiritual and artistic practices that are, in their way, forms of anti-colonial resistance and justice-making.

Simas's 50-minute solo, We Wait In The Darkness--with its soundscape by composer François Richomme--uses visual, textual, kinetic and sonic mediums to affirm and reclaim the strength of ancestry and environment. By employing this sensory overlapping and overload, viewers grasp what it must be like to uncover the memories one's body holds--some sweet, some painful, some subtle or slow to emerge, some earthshaking--and to tap its wisdom.

Over one end of the stage hangs Simas's long, white paper model of a DNA strand. Towards the center back a white, puff-sleeved dress with a long, old-fashioned dirndl skirt dangles. Along stage left, Simas has suspended a series of white paper panels textured like fine quilts. Panels also capture film imagery, often hazy, glimmering and ethereal, that allude to place--and sometimes people--without specific identification for the benefit of those outside Seneca culture. This poetically elusive quality renders the work as ritual rather than documentary, gives it a spaciousness rather than containing it as the story of a particular individual--although we do hear a voiceover of actual letters of Simas's grandmother, as read by her mother, and we also hear words in the Seneca language gruffly whispered as Simas dances. So, precious, protected mystery exists but also a certain porosity and generosity to help all of us begin to understand the possibility and path of healing.

Theater of both the vivid and the indistinct, then. As Simas sits with her naked back to the audience--spine and arms deeply flexing, stretching and reaching, snaking and twisting--I recall my first realization, when I practiced energy healing, that the back shares more information, without a person's conscious intervention and manipulation, than the front of the body. Throughout the dance, even when she finally dons that white dress, Simas shows us a body of focused, determined will, sure of itself, sure of its mission, sure of the ultimate fulfillment of that mission. We come to understand the evocative sound and visual imagery--drawn from earth and waterways of Seneca land--as its sacred source. And we also contemplate what it meant, for indigenous people, to be literally torn from that grounding, nourishing source. Her body speaks as it moves, and it is saying: I will this. I call this back. The spirits of the land respond in Richomme's mesmerizing, commanding weave of sound.

Near the end of the piece, projections of schematic diagrams suggest maps with numbered sections, a landscape reduced to arbitrary parts for some entity's benefit. Again, nothing is identified, verbally or visually, yet the implications are clear. An environment we just experienced so powerfully in sight and sound, now lies butchered. Simas brings out a sheet of white paper marked with this diagram, solemnly ripping each section from its matrix and placing each strip in a carefully-chosen position along the edge of the floor. She also rips away more of these sections before descending into the audience and gifting them to several of us.

I received number 12. Although I have no idea what territory--real or metaphoric--that it might represent, I will preserve and treasure it.

Letter reader: Laura Waterman Wittstock (Simas’s mother)
Letters: Clarinda Waterman (Simas’s grandmother)
Lighting design: Karin Olson and Carolyn Wong
Set and film design: Rosy Simas

Closed. American Realness 2018 concludes this evening. For further information, click here.

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Edwin Hawkins, 74

Edwin Hawkins, Known for the Hit ‘Oh Happy Day,’ Is Dead at 74
by Neil Genzlinger, The New York Times, January 15, 2018

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