Archive for the 'from the deep archives' Category

From the Deep Archives: Mabou Mines’s HAJJ

May 7, 2020

In this time when live theater is not happening, the veteran downtown troupe Mabou Mines has been posting online treasures from its archives — clips and documentation and full-length videos from its long illustrious career. This week the focus is on a 1993 piece called Hajj, written and directed by Lee Breuer, performed by Ruth Maleczech, with set and lighting by Julie Archer and video by Craig Jones. Because I wrote an article about the production and its cutting-edge use of video technology for American Film magazine, the company asked if I would talk about what it was like seeing the show in person back in the day. My comments were posted on the company’s Facebook page, which you can view here. And you can check out the history of the production on the Mabou Mines website here. There’s a link on the website to watch the show on Vimeo, which is necessarily a rudimentary document that is no substitute for the magical live performance, but it will give you a sense of the work.



From the deep archives: Jean Smart

December 26, 2019


Jean Smart just celebrated her first anniversary of moving to New York City. She spent most of the last year giving one of the season’s great performances in Jane Chambers’ long-running play Last Summer at Bluefish Cove, which moved from Off-Off-Broadway’s New Shandol Theater and Westside Mainstage to its current home Off-Broadway at the Actors Playhouse. And as an anniversary present, she’ll be making her Broadway debut in Pam Gems’ new play Piaf, which opens Thursday at the Plymouth Theater.

In Bluefish Cove Smart played Lil, a funny and romantic businesswoman fighting off terminal cancer and the pity of her friends by plunging into a torrid affair with a straight woman who unwittingly wandered into a lesbian summer resort. Chambers’ script carefully steered around most of the ample opportunities for Camille-like sentimentality, and so did Smart’s performance. Yet she managed – with just an occasional abstract gaze, a nervous cheerfulness, a sudden shattering of carefree façade – to transform almost a soap opera situation into a classic story of love and life struggling against grim odds. Blond and sultry, fleshy yet petite, Smart looked statuesque, which made all the more surprising her quick, husky voice, her pealing laugh, and her utter naturalness as an actor. Then, too the role’s rapid moodswings gave her a chance to show her stuff – inf act, she endured an arduous commute to play Lady Macbeth in Pittsburgh during the showcase stage of Bluefish Cove because, she says, “I knew Lil was too good a part to give up.” It’s always difficult to follow such a spectacular performance, but the producers of Piaf must have spied Smart’s budding charisma. In that play she has one short but pungent scene playing Marlene Dietrich.

Born and reared in Seattle, Smart began her career by staking out the Northwest Territory’ she has worked extensively at such theaters as Seattle Rep, A.C.T., the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and the Alaska Rep. At the latter she appeared in Terra Nova, Ted Tally’s play about Capt. Robert Falcon Scott, who first reached the North Pole. “A friend in L.A. asked, ‘What do you do for a set, open the back wall of the theater?’” Still in her early ‘30s, Smart had already essayed such roles as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, Eve in A History of the American Film,  and Hesione in Shaw’s Heartbreak House before making the inevitable migration to New York.

Putting off that migration gave her a chance to both learn her craft and see the world. Married for a few years to a Marine, she spent several months in japan when he was stationed there. “Another woman and I tried to start a dinner theater in the officers’ club,” she recalled. “We held auditions for You Can’t Take It With You, but nobody came. We had wanted to call it the Yes Theater. Nobody got the joke, so maybe it was just as well.”

(photo by Jonathan Postal)

Soho News, February 4, 1981

From the deep archives: Joseph Kramer — Portrait of a Sexual Healer

May 23, 2019

In the spring of 1992, I interviewed Joseph Kramer, the founder of the Body Electric School, for an article that was published in the April 21 edition of the Village Voice (“Sexual Healing: Joseph Kramer Sings the Body Electric”). I used only a few brief excerpts from the interview in the published article. But the conversation with Kramer covered a lot of territory above and beyond the “Celebrating the Body Erotic” workshop. He spoke in much greater detail about his own background, the evolution of the workshops he taught, his vision of the vocation he named “sacred intimate,” Andrew Ramer’s notion of the “consciousness scout,” and his own understanding of the erotic consciousness scout and its function in society, among other topics.

I’ve come to view this interview as a historical document, so I’m publishing the complete transcript here for the first time, edited only in order to be comprehensible.


October 24, 2018

Watching Elaine May’s shattering performance on Broadway in Kenneth Lonergan’s The Waverly Gallery as a feisty West Village widow descending into dementia threw me back in time to 1983, when I spent an entire summer on her trail as an earnest young arts reporter working on a magazine profile for Esquire. It was a plum assignment. Not too many interviews with Elaine May had ever been published. Just about the only ones I could find were the couple of riotously funny self-interviews that the New York Times Arts & Leisure section talked her into doing over the years. I quickly learned why you haven’t read many stories about her: she hates doing interviews and will do anything she can to avoid them.

The story I wrote has never appeared in public before now. I call it…

“One Moment with Miss May

From the Deep Archives: August Moon Festival (1981)

August 30, 2018

Last weekend my husband and I decided on short notice to rent a car and drive up to Hudson to see a show with the very long title Variations on Themes from Lost and Found: Scenes from a Life and Other Works by John Bernd. The show, produced by Lumberyard and performed at the beautiful Hudson Hall, debuted almost two years ago at Danspace in New York City, created by Ishmael Houston-Jones and Miguel Gutierrez as a tribute to Bernd and by extension to a generation of downtown artists lost to AIDS. A cast of very young performers recreated a series of vignettes from Bernd’s work, which incorporated words, dancing, drawings, singing. It was a beautiful show that recaptured the essence of downtown New York in the 1980s, with echoes of Meredith Monk, Robert Wilson, and the full panoply of postmodern dancer-choreographers running/jumping/standing still and performance artists yakking about whatever was on their minds. Along with original music by Nick Hallett, the piece burst with groovy music of the era by Prince, Lou Reed, New Order, and the S.O.S. Band, whose “Just Be Good to Me” opened the show, played in its entirety as the cast took their places onstage one by one and just stood there in their tighty-whities — sexy, brave, and sadly reminiscent of all the young bodies we lost to the plague.

Bernd died almost exactly thirty years ago, and the show in Hudson conjured my strongest memory of seeing Bernd performing in nearby Catskill at the August Moon Festival six years earlier, in August 1981. He and Tim Miller reprised Live Boys, a duet they had created and performed to great acclaim at P.S. 122. As I wrote in my review for the Soho News:

When Miller and Bernd first performed Live Boys at P. S. 122 last winter, it was essentially a celebration documenting their relationship (in words, slides, movement) with deadpan romanticism and explicit eroticism. But when they performed at August Moon, the relationship had broken up, which brought a riveting, almost unbearable edge to the performance. Tim cut straight to the bone by talking about how he and John were asked, before going to August Moon, whether they wanted “a room with one big bed or a room with two little beds”; a little bit later he announced, “This is our last performance.” (Apparently, the night before a playful boxing sequence had gotten out of hand, and some serious blows were landed.) Already the tension in the room was suffocating, and probably half the audience felt like saying, “Uh, I think I’ll go have a drink while you two guys work this out between yourselves.” But having allowed their lives to intrude so far into their art, Miller and Bernd impressively refrained from mawkish self-indulgence; their emotions, however private, fueled a devastating portrait of failed romance that anyone could relate to. And whereas originally the climax of the piece was a proud gesture (Tim spray-painting letters on their bare chests so that when they stood together their bodies read “faggots”), this performance ended with the two of them ripping and tearing their ceremonial pajama costumes to shreds. It was such a bummer that it was almost shocking to see Miller and Bernd the next day smiling and talking together at the same picnic table; but then they grabbed s hovel and went off into the woods to bury their shredded pajamas. Clearly, these men didn’t just tear up their lives into pieces to serve their art; they also knew how to use the ritual aspects of theater to heal their lives. And the two were unavoidably intertwined.

You can read the complete text of my review (“Art on the Rocks”) here.


%d bloggers like this: