Review: Galas

Diva! Here we have one diva (in the most positive goddess-like sense) playing another diva (in both senses). Well, it’s a little more complicated than that. We have a man with goddess-like acting gifts (Everett Quinton) portraying a fictionalized version of opera diva Maria Callas. Drag doesn’t get much higher than this.

The play is Galas by the late great Charles Ludlam, Everett’s partner in art and life – and the greatest playwright to come out of the Ridiculous Theatre movement. Now Quinton is directing and playing the lead role in Galas in its first New York revival since its original 1983 run.

As director, Everett fills the play with truly “Ridiculous”detail, as well as lots of warmth and romanticism, appropriate to the story of a diva with such great skills at singing Romantic Era opera. As an actor, Galas confirms Quinton as the greatest living actor in the Ridiculous tradition – and among the best in any tradition, as far as I’m concerned.

He attacks the role with great precision, and the almost supernatural conviction that is the hallmark of great Ridiculous acting, expertly playing the deep seriousness of this tragicomedy as well (its actual subtitle is “A Modern Tragedy” but it’s far too funny for that). Everett is the ideal interpreter of Ludlam’s plays, knowing when to be loyal to what Charles had already done, and when to push things even further into preposterousness to keep it fresh.

This is above all a star vehicle for the actor playing Galas, but there is one other fantastic performance in this production, as well as someone who shines in a smaller part. On the fantastic side is Jenne Vath as the diva’s mad maid Bruna. The role is nutty as hell and Vath plays it to the hilt. And, as Galas’s romantic rival Athina, Maude Lardener Burke leads you to believe – in a very few lines – that she is every bit as formidable as the great singer.

The production’s venue is the acoustically unforgiving main hall of St. John’s Lutheran Church, and its biggest flaw is lack of vocal projection equal to the echo-y space. That is for sure, a mere quibble when you are seeing such a great artist as Quinton vigorously at work. Highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Interview: Everett Quinton in “Galas”

I have had the great pleasure of directing Ridiculous Theatre legend Everett Quinton twice, in the New York premiere of Tennessee Williams’s Now the Cats with Jewelled Claws and a staged reading of Charles Ludlam’s Medea. The Williams play got some terrific reviews, which you can read here (and you can see some lovely photos here). Charles Ludlam was perhaps the greatest playwright to come out of the Ridiculous Theatre movement, and Everett was his partner in art and life.

Now Quinton is directing and playing the lead role in Ludlam’s fictionalized tribute to opera diva Maria Callas, entitled Galas, in its first New York revival since its original 1983 run. I sat down with this humble genius to talk about it.

So how did this revival of Galas come about?

It was suggested last fall. I’ve been working with the Yorick Theatre Company. Chris Johnson, who is the Artistic Director of Yorick, talked with Pastor Mark Erson who is the Artistic Director of Theatre at St. John’s Church on Christoper Street, where Yorick performs. They came up with the idea of doing Galas – because of the Stonewall 50th anniversary and World Pride – suggested it to me and I said “good.”

Is this a role you’ve wanted to do?

Yeah, people over the years have suggested it, but there was never the opportunity to do it. Now that it has, I’d be a fool to say no; its a terrific part. I’m having fun with it. When you’re directing it and you’re in it, like I am with this, there are so many pots on the stove. But now me and the other actors are starting to cook! [Laughs] I love the actors in this group, they’re a wonderful group and we’re finding our way.

There’s humor in everything Charles wrote, but am I right in thinking this is one of his more serious plays?

It does play as more serious, yes. That’s the beauty of it. It starts out one way and it flips midway, which is not accidental on Charles’s part. You carefully study the script and he sets up the flip early on. I’m really enjoying exploring that. When I was in the original production, for which I also did the costumes, I didn’t worry about the big picture. So that’s a joy of this production for me. It’s around this time that Charles blossoms from a good writer into a really fabulous one, so skillful. We all improve as we go along, right?

Funny thing is, this big play was originally supposed to be a two-hander for me and him, about an actress and her maid. I don’t know what was going on at the time that provoked him to turn it into a life of Maria Callas. Because usually that’s the way he worked, something in the air tweaked him.

I know this is fictionalized – she’s named Galas not Callas – but I recall that it actually tracks pretty closely with Callas’s life.

Pretty closely, except there’s a couple of things I couldn’t make sense of and then I realized that’s the fictionalized part. I thought I knew from the original production that the last act takes place in Paris – and it doesn’t [Laughs], that’s the fictional part. But it is a close tribute, and I’m using her speaking voice. All of the scene changes are her singing.

I love that Callas demanded a dollar more than all her contemporaries – she would say “so-and-so’s getting so much so I want a dollar more.” I love her arrogance, and when you realize who those contemporaries were, you realize oh my God she had cojones, she had ovaries. [Laughs]

Are you an opera fan yourself?

A fan, yeah. I have no intellectual conceptions about it, I just love it. Tony Randall called it the greatest of art forms, which is arguable. Those singers just do so many wonderful things. I mean I walk around the apartment pretending to be one. When I got the costumes for the original production, I had a decent budget and I found this beautiful green dress for Charles to wear as Galas. But when I first got it home, I wore it and went around the apartment pretending I was soprano Shirley Verrett [Laughs]. So I’m a lip synch opera queen. Charles liked opera but there were bigger opera queens in the company and our chatter could annoy him. I called it “gay baseball,” we talk about opera and musicals like straight guys talk about baseball.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Review: Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist

I don’t know how familiar playwright and actor Byron Lane is with the legendary Ridiculous Theatrical Company and Charles Ludlam’s approach to playwrighting and acting, but his Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist is Ridiculous Theatre to a “T.” To wit: we are presented with absurd, campy and ridiculous situations (about serious themes) which the actors deliver with real emotion and total commitment. The themes are as serious as can be: suicidal tendencies, finding your place in the world; the situation is completely preposterous: suicidal gay man Walt (Lane himself) finds that his ex has put out a “roomate wanted” ad on Craigslist that is answered by the titular Tilda.

Swinton promptly takes over the place in both physical and spiritual ways. Lenk’s virtuouso portrayal is the evening’s centerpiece, playing to Swinton’s other-worldly persona with deliciously shameless flamboyance. According to this broadly satirical version of the film star, she was in Dances with Wolves as all of the wolves, and what she was in Die Hard is just way too fun to give away.

Lane, for his part, knows exactly when to under- and over-play Walt’s simpering despair for the best comic effect. Jayne Entwistle and Mark Jude Sullivan clown expertly in multiple roles – mostly Walt’s demanding, judgemental family. While there’s a whiff of a message about self-esteem, this is largely a surreal lark played for the laughs, which it delivers in marvellous, hysterical abundance. Highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Review: Chasing the New White Whale

There’s a visually impressive production of a impassioned new play about heroin abuse in the commercial fishing industry now playing at La MaMa ETC. Chasing the New White Whale uses the framework of Moby Dick to tell the story of New England fishing captain Robby Foerster, who is committed to old fashioned institutions of fishing – hook fishing, independent boats – but runs afoul of heroin addiction.

Both the play, by Michael Gorman, and the direction, by Arthur Adair are ambitious and aesthetically complex. A mysterious contingent of ghostly whale hunters and modern day commercial fishermen inspired by Ahab’s stowaway crew, “Fedallah and the Phantoms,” is a particularly effective device. Donald Eastman’s set makes very inventive use of boats that increase in size and height as the play progresses – later ones move on wheeled scaffolding.

While it is a compelling production, it’s not quite successful in what it sets out to do. The publicity material describe how Robbie “falls deeply into addiction after a fateful first encounter with heroin” – but we never see this “fateful” moment. There is a character called the Chaplain who recalls the long sermon in Moby Dick, baldy stating the plays themes in brief sermonettes. These little lectures are well performed and staged, but are simply not dramatically effective – too much telling, not enough showing.

The acting company, however, is uniformly strong. Alan Barnes Netherton’s portrayal of Foerster is intense and intelligent. Meredith Nicholaev is another standout in her soulful rendering of Robbie’s friend and sometime accountant Therese.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Review: This Was The End

Full disclosure: I’d consider two of the performers in Mabou Mines’s This Was The End an artistic aunt and uncle (even though I’ve never met them). Paul Zimet was in the Open Theatre with my artistic mentors Megan Terry and Jo Ann Schmidman. Black-Eyed Susan was in the Ridiculous Theatrical Company, whose one-time Artistic Director, Everett Quinton, I have directed (and been very inspired by) on a couple of occasions. This Was The End is closer to the Open Theatre’s work: abstract, highly visual, experimental, more concerned with theme and image than story.

There are fragments of a story here, the story of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. In the play, Vanya asks, “What if I live to be 60?” In This Was The End, director Mallory Catlett probes for answers to that question, along with four luminaries of avant-garde theater all over the age of 60. This Was The End explores themes of loss, memory and aging in a deconstructed yet visceral way.

Zimet, as Vanya, is every bit as amazing as I remember him being (in videos of the Open Theatre’s early 1970s work). In one particularly breathtaking monologue he interacts with onstage sound designer / audio-visual manipulator G. Lucas Crane, imitating the way Crane distorts Zimet’s recorded voice with uncanny precision and accuracy. Sometimes he urges a rhythm to Crane with a spontaneity that feels like jazz improvisation.

Black-Eyed Susan brings whimsy and emotion to the proceedings, while never veering too far from the show’s bittersweet tone. She, like Sonya, the character she plays, injects a ray of hope into Vanya’s dark world. The other actors, Jim Himelsbach and Rae C. Wright are virtuoso actors on a par with Zimet and Susan. If you have a taste for challenging, somewhat abstract avant-garde theater, it doesn’t get much better than this.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Review: The Artificial Jungle

Ridiculous Theatre legend Charles Ludlam’s The Artificial Jungle is essential queer theatre viewing – and one hell of a lot of fun. The late, great Ludlam founded the Ridiculous Theatrical Company 50 years ago, creating a singular style of campy but rigorously structured theatre committed to outrageousness without apology, but also without any kind of knowing wink.

Jungle was Ludlam’s final play and mercilessly yet lovingly parodies film noir. As was often his wont, Ludlam turned to an older and more sturdily built model, Émile Zola’s Thérèse Raquin – a tale filled to bursting with lust, murder and horror – for the plotting. For the dialogue, however, he takes film noir‘s “hard-boiled” schtick, turns the heat all the way up and lets the whole thing boil over.

The director for this production is Ludlam’s husband and muse, Everett Quinton (whom I have had the great pleasure of working with several times). Everett is the ideal interpeter of Ludlam’s plays, knowing when to be loyal to what Charles had already done, and when to push things even further into preposterousness to keep it fresh.

Quinton has a marvelous cast to work with, who seem to truly get it. David Harrell takes on the role Ludlam wrote for himself, Chester Nurdiger, the schlubby, happless owner of a New Yawk pet shop, and Harrell gleefully puts the “nerd” in Nurdiger. Alyssa H. Chase plays his frustrated housewife Roxanne with energetic and angular vampiness. Hunky Anthony Michael Lopez takes Quinton’s role, Zachary, an interloping hired hand, which he delivers with muscular intelligence. Anita Hollander takes the one-time drag role of Mother Nurdiger, and puts it across with an appropriately drag-sized performance. Rob Minutoli has terrific comic timing in the small role of Officer Spinelli.

A key part of the action is a tankful of piranhas, which designer Vandy Wood has crafted with the obvious theatricality that is such an important part of the Ridiculous aesthetic, and which puppetmaster Satoshi Haga imbues with surprising expressiveness and personality. Hilarious, and highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Casting Call: Drag Stars needed for Fringe Musical I’m directing!

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CASTING CALL: “That’s MISS FITS, to YOU!”.

5 Performances, NYC Fringe Festival, August, 13, 15, 19, 22 & 27, various times. Rehearsals, July 15-opening, evenings.

Auditions: July 6, 7 & 8, 2016. 7p.m. to 10p.m. At BoConcept: 144 W. 18th Street, NYC.

For audition appointment:

* look for us on http://actorsaccess.com/ (preferred), or
* contact Jonathan Warman directly at contact@jonathanwarman.com

More info and music samples: http://thatsmissfitstoyou.weebly.com/

Seeking big drag personas, gender-funk, trans-actors, for a poly-gender, spiritual, mystery musical. Singers, dancers, comedians, lip-sync. 6 roles, age 20-40. 6 roles, age 40-70. Big characters. Plus one young muscular male, and one Judy Garland impersonator.

Audition in drag/gender-funk, or bring a photo.

Roles:

YOUNG MISS FITS
20 to 40 years old, all ethnicities male. Man in drag (room for “gender-funk”, a beard is possible but not required). A starring part with singing and silent acting only — no lines. A powerful queer spirit guide.

MRS COUNTERPOINT
40 to 70 years old, all ethnicities male. Man in drag (room for “gender-funk”, a beard is possible but not required). Always the show-woman / show-off, but also very tough. Lead role, singer/actor.

MISS ALLITERATION
40 to 70 years old, all ethnicities male. Man in drag (room for “gender-funk”, a beard is possible but not required). Sweet and a bit mystical, comedian, very funny. Lead role, singer/actor.

MISS SERVICE WO-MAN
40 to 70 years old, all ethnicities male (could be FTM trans) in drag (room for “gender-funk”, a beard is possible but not required). Military type, some severe up in here. Lead role, singer/actor.

MISS CONSPIRACY
40 to 70 years old, all ethnicities MTF trans or cisgender man in drag. Fierce, fierce, fierce. Lead role, singer/actor.

SERGEANT GRIM
40 to 70 years old, all ethnicities Policeman, stately and stern, butch yet androgynous, with secrets to spare. Lead role, singer/actor.

POLICE BOY
20 to 30 years old, all ethnicities male. Gorgeous young muscle stud eye candy. Has a solo song and some dialogue.

YOUNG MRS COUNTERPOINT
20 to 30 years old, all ethnicities male. Man in drag (room for “gender-funk”, a beard is possible but not required). Always the show-woman / show-off, but also very tough. Major role, singer/dancer.

YOUNG MISS ALLITERATION
20 to 30 years old, all ethnicities male. Man in drag (room for “gender-funk”, a beard is possible but not required). Sweet and a bit mystical, comedian, very funny. Major role, singer/dancer.

YOUNG MISS SERVICE WO-MAN
20 to 30 years old, all ethnicities male (could be FTM trans) in drag (room for “gender-funk”, a beard is possible but not required). Military type, some severe up in here. Major role, singer/dancer.

YOUNG MISS CONSPIRACY
20 to 30 years old, all ethnicities. MTF trans or cisgender man in drag. Fierce, fierce, fierce. Major role, singer/dancer.

JUDY GARLAND
20 to 50 years old, all ethnicities male or female. Impersonator of the legendary singer. Must give a convincing illusion of Miss Garland’s vocals, appearance and mannerisms. Has a featured song.

ROSA PARKS
40 to 45 years old, African American male or female. Woman or man in drag. Non-speaking dignified impersonation of the legendary civil rights activists. Depending on acting and vocal abilities may double as Service Wo-Man, Counterpoint, or Alliteration.

DURATION

July 15, 2016 – June 27, 2016

News: “NAFTA comedy” I’m directing opens TONIGHT!

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Quit the Road, Jack, a new comedy by Jerry Polner, directed by GaySocialites contributor Jonathan Warman, about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), premieres tonight, Thursday March 5 as a guest production of TheaterLab in Manhattan.

When the son of a divorced and miserable couple of burnt-out ex-musicians runs away from home to join up with the immigrant worker rights movement, mom and dad are forced to travel across North America together to find their boy. Directed by Jonathan Warman, acclaimed for his work by the New York Times, Backstage, TimeOut NY and Theatermania. Quit plays Thursday to Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 3 PM through March 22. TheaterLab is at 357 West 36th Street, 3rd floor in Manhattan (between 8th-9th Avenue; Subway A,C,E to 34th Street), and $18 tickets are available ($12 student discounts for advance sales, using promotional code STU; discounts for groups of 10 or more ­ use promotional code BIG) at OvationTix at https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/941428 .

Jerry Polner (“I saw a lot of terrific shows at The Planet Connections Festivity, but nothing made me laugh louder, longer, or more pleasurably than the first scene of Jerry Polner’s Fix Number Six”­ Martin Denton, nytheatre.com), is a writer of sketches, parodies, and stage comedies, many taking skewed looks at serious issues. Recently, his How Do You Want it, a romantic comedy about the Federal Reserve System, won the Planet Connections Award for Outstanding Production of a Staged Reading, and his Fix Number Six, nominated for six Planet Connections awards, was also published by Next Stage Press and Indie Theater Now. His other short plays have been produced by the Workshop Theater Company, Brooklyn Playwrights Collective, Manhattan Theatre Source, and NY Madness; and Weatherman, a comedy about the weather bureau, was published by Samuel French. Jerry’s comedy sketch script Fugitive Math Teachers was one of the winners of Break Media¹s Break.com Video Contest. Online, he has written for Political Subversities and McSweeney’s.

Quit the Road, Jack, produced by Radical Gags Theatrics, is co-presented by ALIGN (Alliance For A Greater New York), Community Voices Heard. The Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition, and New York Immigration Coalition. In connection with the subject matter of the play, the co-presenting organizations will join in Fair Work, an onstage panel discussion about immigration and worker rights, immediately after the Thursday March 12 performance.

Jonathan Warman’s New York work includes the premiere of Tennessee Williams’s Now the Cats with Jewelled Claws, starring Mink Stole and Everett Quinton (“Outrageously entertaining, thanks to the imagination of the director”­ Backstage; “His surehanded staging provokes both laughs and thought” ­ Theatermania) and the new musical Me and Caesar Lee with two-time Tony nominee Ernestine Jackson. For more information on his directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

The cast of Quit the Road, Jack, features Cynthia Bastidas; RJ Batlle; Jes Dugger (Fancy Nancy, “Homeland”,  “One Tree Hill”); Rosemary Howard (“The Wolf Of Wall Street”); Connor Johnston; Jorge Marcos (“The Good Wife”, “White Collar”), Jaime Puerta (El Quijote, La Isla Desnuda) Jay Reum and Rob Skolits (The Normal Heart, Lincoln Center Theater). Set design is by Eric Marchetta, costume design is by Maddie Peterson, lighting design is by Yuriy Nayer, and choreography is by Liz Piccoli. The production is stage managed by Vanna Richardson.

Review: John Epperson: Show Trash

Show Trash

The artist otherwise known as Lypsinka takes off the wigs, makeup and sound design, and – lo and behold – is still an engaging entertainer without all that. Sure, John Epperson sans the Lyp armor is a very different sort of performer, but his much more traditional cabaret act Show Trash holds the stage, with considerable grace.

Show Trash is in many ways a Lypsinka origin story, showing how this small-town Mississippi boy eventually blossomed into an emblem of all that is worldly. It takes a few songs before we turn to his childhood on Hazelhurt, Mississippi (2010 population: 4,009). This is a good thing – one of Epperson’s great gifts is his ability to reveal hidden dimensions using surprising juxtapositions. Though that gift is used with more subtlety that in the Lypsinka shows, it still gives freshness to an essentially autobiographical act.

Epperson gives us a more exposed, vulnerable side of himself in Show Trash. He reveals that Lypsinka’s brashness comes in part from a desire to mask his own reticence about performing (he’s gotten over that: in addition to this show, Lypsinka has made increasing numbers of appearance in “straight” plays).

In the show, Epperson accompanies himself on piano. His first notable artistic efforts were on the piano: he was a rehearsal pianist for American Ballet Theater in the 1970s and 1980s, playing for the likes of Baryshnikov and Marakova. While this provided him entree into a world he loved – he tells many engaging stories from those years – it stifled his own creative impulses. From this unmet need sprang Lypsinka.

There are glimpses of the Lyp, as Epperson’s lip-synchs to some Hazelhurst favorites or flashes a particularly sharp hand gesture. Barry Kleinbort is the one of the great masters of cabaret direction, and his sensitive work here includes the supple use of home movies and photos to reinforce Epperson’s story. Highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Review: Lypsinka: The Boxed Set

Lypsinka Box Set

Lypsinka long since turned the drag queen craft of lip-synching into high art. In The Boxed Set, the artist otherwise known as John Epperson refines and reconnects the various pieces he has been doing since the 1980s, in a sort of greatest hits collection. He has done this compilation before, and this time around the thematic strains about identity, gender and madness have just gotten clearer and stronger.

Thank goodness, though, that increased clarity has done nothing to diminish the fundamental strangeness of the Lyp’s audio collages. One of the great pleasures of Epperson’s brand of lip-synch is the way it doesn’t so much tell a story as paint a picture. An Ethel Merman outburst next to a Dolores Gray tune, next to Faye Dunaway channeling Joan Crawford, next to the Crawford herself, next to a Vegas bopper you’ve never heard of – these juxtapositions are the very things that make both the surrealism and the sharp insights happen.

Those things, and the very precision of the lip-synch. You can’t do the things Lypsinka does without meticulous attention to the basic craft of lip-synch, and her talent in this arena is unparalleled, awe-inspiring. And Epperson’s background in dance just adds to the meticulous construction.

Sometimes Lypsinka will play a moment straight, but just as often she takes a wisp of irony in the original and puts it under a magnifying glass with a look, a sneer, or even a limb that seems to be rebelling against her brain. But never doubt that even that rebellion is under Epperson’s laser-sharp control.

What can I say? This is 5-star, 10s across the board, the gold standard of drag queen artistry. This gets my very highest recommendation. What haven’t you bought your tickets yet? For those tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.