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.

News: I’m directing NAFTA comedy “Quit the Road, Jack” by Jerry Polner

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In March 2015, I will be directing Jerry Polner’s new comedy Quit the Road, Jack. It’s a comedy about NAFTA! But it’s actually about a divorced and miserable couple of burnt-out ex-musicians whose 16-year-old son runs away from home. Somehow, the son gets involved in the immigrant worker rights movement. He sends cryptic notes back to his parents, telling them what losers they are and giving them just enough information to make them think they can find him. Mom and Dad can’t stomach each other, but neither trusts the other one to find Jack, and so they’re forced to travel across North America together in search of their son.

For more about my directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Review: Bad with Money

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Director Ben Rimalower is making a second career of turning life’s lemons into the lemonade of serio-comic one man shows, which he performs rather than directs (Aaron Mark directs Rimalower, and you have to give Mark credit for having the requisite boldness to direct a director). First there was Patti Issues, which detailed his complex relationships with both his heroine Patti LuPone and his own father. Now, in Bad with Money, he goes into his even more complex relationship with cash and credit.

While Rimalower again brings wit and humor to the story – especially jokes and references designed to tickle theatre fanatics and insiders – the tone here is a bit more shaded and muted. He’s come to some kind of resolution in his relationship with Patti and Daddy; not so much with his addictive desire for the more, more, more than money can buy.

As such, Bad with Money isn’t as quite as breathlessly entertaining as Patti Issues. Neither does it have any particularly deep insights into the consumer culture that so grips Rimalower. This isn’t a huge problem, and in a way makes for a more truthfully ambivalent story. While his stories about going into prostitution are salacious and mostly fun, the stories about charging a boss’s account and dipping into a show’s budget are more dark and poignant.

It’s a complex story, involving lots of travel around the country, a large cast (though Rimalower only acts out a handful of the people he mentions), name changes and the difficult ebb and flow of a life in the theatre. It testifies to Rimalower’s skill as both writer and performer that very nearly every moment is crystal clear. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

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