February 2, 2011

It seems absolutely fitting that the last show to go into production at La Mama ETC before that Off-Off-Broadway landmark theater’s legendary founder Ellen Stewart died January 13 was a collaboration between two generations of experimental theater artists — the young writer-singer-songwriter-director-drag-artiste Taylor Mac (above center, with James Tigger! Ferguson and Will Badgett) and the Talking Band, an ensemble that has been creating and performing its own work since 1974. My review of The Walk Across America for Mother Earth has just been posted on

“The play tells the apparently pretty much true story of Taylor Mac’s involvement in an actual 1992 grass-roots march from Pennsylvania to Nevada by activists demanding that the government return to the Shoshone people land that it had appropriated as a nuclear testing ground. But it’s no kind of earnest documentary. The show combines ramshackle vaudeville, a Mickey-and-Judy version of commedia dell’arte (on LSD), and a real play that channels Chekhov and The Wizard of Oz.

You can read the entire review online here.

One Response to “Theater review: THE WALK ACROSS AMERICA FOR MOTHER EARTH”

  1. Steve V. Says:

    I was hoping, Don, that you’d write something about La MaMa E.T.C.. and about Ellen Stewart, who passed away last month having lived long enough to see her theater, and herself, become a beloved institution. I’m very glad that you’ve done that now, along with your perceptive review of The Walk Across the Earth for Mother Earth.

    I believe Stewart will be remembered with love and appreciation by people on several continents who were touched in some way or other by the work she produced over five decades, people for whom theater is not primarily a form of commercial entertainment.

    To your long, but I’m sure by-no-means-comprehensive list of productions you’ve enjoyed seeing at La MaMa over the years (it must have been hard to narrow it down to paragraph length), I’d like to add another of my own, of works which you were not around to see.

    Though it may not appear in any anthologies of plays of the 60’s,
    to me one of the most representative plays of that era was Leonard Melfi’s Having Fun in the Bathroom, produced at La MaMa’s second home, 82 2nd Ave., in the spring of 1968. It’s de-facto star was Park-Avenue-socialite-turned-Warhol-superstar Baby Jane Holzer. Christopher Allport directed. Despite the title it wasn’t scatological, but it was “transgressive” for the period. I remember the audience gasped when one of the characters spoke his line about being irresistible to all of the women in the room, “and to most of the men.” This was the first time I saw Ellen Stewart, heard her shake her cowbell, and say “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to La MaMa (in her lilting Cajun accent, she always stressed the second syllable), dedicated to the playwright and all aspects of the theater.”

    I might add that thanks to “Mama Stewart” I got my first taste of not only Melfi, but also Shepard (Chicago) and Lanford Wilson (This Is the Rill Speaking), when Three From LaMaMa played later that year at the Martinique Theater. Ditto, Paul Foster’s Tom Paine Off-Broadway, which got its start at La MaMa (thanks to Michael Finegold’s Stewart tribute for that factoid).

    In the spring of 1969, while on spring break from my university in Illinois, I went to the box office of the brand-knew quarters of La Mama, on East 4th St., and somehow managed to get tickets for the premier productions, Tom Eyen’s musical about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor,Caution: A Love Story and Julie Bovasso’s Gloria and Esperanza, which I saw in the same evening! How cool was that, when you’re 21 and a theater major. Or at any age, in any field, if you love theater.

    Finally, the thing about Ellen Stewart that I’ll most remember is this: she took plays and places that in other people’s hands could seem dreary and grungy and, through her producing skills, made them look shining, even glamorous. That’s more than entertainment.

    Thanks, Don, for letting me, cuckoo-like, use your comments section for my own tribute to Ellen Stewart, who brought theatrical magic into not only my young, but also my later years as well.

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