I'm feeling very good about the state of NYC theatre after two nights in a row of interesting work. Last night we saw Art, Life & Show Biz, by Ain Gordon, at P.S.122. It's subtitled "a non-fiction play", and the substance of it is the lives of Ain Gordon and three fabulous women performers: his mother Valda Setterfield (modern dance), Lola Pashalinkski (downtown theatre), and Helen Gallagher (Broadway/musicals).
I've seen the first two several times, but, not really being a musicals person -- don't take my homosexual membership card away -- I had never seen Helen Gallagher before. It's amazing that certain people just have "it" when you see them in person. She was a star, and you couldn't help but feel her presence even when she was just sitting still.
I think I was most moved by Lola, since hers is the world to which I'm most connected. She was a member of Charles Ludlam's Ridiculous Theatrical Company. It was wonderful to hear her stories of being a teenager in the 50s and coming out, realizing that there were others like her. I saw her at one of the memorial events for my friend Paul Schmidt, but I didn't go up and introduce myself, because it felt weird to be at such an event and run up to tell her I was a big fan. One of her stories involved the Ridiculous doing a play at Christopher's End, a gay bar at Christopher and West Streets, in the early 70s. One night Lotte Lenya came to see it. She was in NYC starring in Cabaret at the time. She told people she loved it -- that it reminded her of the old days in Berlin.
I also liked some of the stories from Helen about older days on Broadway. When she talked about Jerome Robbins, she said he was very talented, but he was very mean. He was the reason Equity rules require performers to be paid for rehearsals.
Tonight we saw The Ladies, by The Civilians, at HERE. It's a look at four women who were famous (or infamous) for their relationships to dictators: Eva Peron, Imelda Marcos, Madame Mao and Elena Ceaucescu. The work was created by Anne Washburn and Anne Kauffman, and the two of them are characters in the play as well. I know Anne (Annie) Kauffman, so it was wacky to watch someone play her on stage. I talked with Jennifer Morris (the actress who played her) afterward, and she had noticed me laughing and reacting to her performance.
There is a lot of interesting material in this. James commented on one of the things that Anne K's character mentions that is so interesting about them: they didn't care what people thought of them -- which is a very powerful thing. It's also interesting to think about whether these women were the product of a very specific time in history: the point of the simultaneous decline of traditional monarchies/aristocracies and the rise of women's independence and power. Will there be any more of these -- to use Anne W's phrase -- "glamourpuss wives" in the future?
It runs next weekend also at HERE -- Friday, Saturday, and Sunday -- and I really recommend going. The text itself is very smart, and the cast is brilliant. It's fabulous to see a group of highly intelligent actors work on a script like this. I hesitate to say more, since I don't want to spoil it for anyone who will see it, but the way the play bounces off of certain 19th "heroines" like Nora in A Doll's House and Anna Karenina is fascinating.
One last quote: The two Annes are talking at one point about how awful most of the books are about these women -- that they are all either "scurrilous or froufy".