Englishwoman in New York

The tunnel starts at an undisclosed location in London. It bores westward under the ocean, jags a bit at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, rises through the denser rock of the continental shelf, and ends at New York City’s Soho Rep, where it deposits British artistic directors.

Or so it seems. When Sarah Benson takes over on October 14, she’ll be the third Brit in a row to run the highly regarded downtown theater. “It was bizarre when I was hired,” says outgoing artistic director Daniel Aukin, a London native, “and it’s bizarre this time.” Julian Webber, another Brit, ran the place for the eight years prior to Aukin. None of them knew each other before their stints at the theater, which was founded in 1975 by two plain-old Americans, Marlene Swartz and Jerry Engelbach.

Soho Rep had a particularly strong run under Aukin, solidifying its reputation for well-produced, idiosyncratic playwriting. During his tenure, the theater won an Obie Award for its 2003 revival of Maria Irene Fornes’s Molly’s Dream and multiple Obies for Melissa James Gibson’s 2001 [sic].

“What’s unique about Soho Rep,” says Benson, explaining the philosophy she’ll use to run the Walker Street theater, “is its position in the New York landscape. Although we’re nestled in the downtown community, we’re also making plays. We’re very downtown in one sense, but we’re also interested in good design and the things many small companies don’t have the resources for. It’s about work that’s specific to the theatrical idiom—not a TV show, not a film. And work that can only be made by a specific artist or group, whether Richard Maxwell, Melissa James Gibson, or Young Jean Lee. There’s nothing interchangeable about a Soho Rep production.”

Benson, 28, graduated from King’s College London and worked with the theater group Arion before a 2002 Fulbright brought her to Brooklyn College’s directing MFA program. Part of the award was a job at Soho Rep, who then hired her in 2004 as associate artistic director and co-chair of its Writer/Director Lab. For the past two years she has also co-curated the Prelude Festival at the CUNY Graduate Center, which is a kind of tasting menu of avant theatrical work scheduled for the upcoming New York season. This year’s ambitious four-day event concluded September 30 and featured performances by Collapsable Giraffe, Carl Hancock Rux, and Tent, among many others.

Benson is cautious about naming writers she’d like to produce at Soho Rep, but notes that “Prelude is a good example of my playwriting aesthetic.” With that hint and a gander at the Prelude schedule, one might expect to see the literate alterna-plays of people like Jason Grote, Will Eno, Thomas Bradshaw, Jenny Schwartz, Amber Reed, or Nick Flynn. Benson also wants to make Soho Rep’s script-development programs “more of a continuum” with its main stage, and hopefully increase the number of annual productions from the currently modest two. Their new season begins October 5 with Adam Bock’s The Thugs.

As for Aukin, he’ll be “seeing what it’s like not to run a theater for a while.” He has several directing projects in the pipeline, two of them film adaptations of plays he directed at Soho Rep: Quincy Long’s The Year of the Baby and Mark Schultz’s Everything Will Be Different. He also spent this past summer at the Sundance Institute Theatre Lab working on Gibson’s new play, a modern-day version of The Odyssey, which he calls “the best thing she’s ever written.” As for his Soho Rep legacy, Aukin would like to be remembered for “identifying and supporting visionary plays with a real emphasis on integrated, rigorous design.” It’s a legacy the dynamic, well-connected Benson seems primed to both honor and expand.


As You Lake It

The best summary of Waiting for Godot may be Act II’s first stage direction: ”
Next day. Same time. Same place.” Samuel Beckett intended that “same place” to be a country road, but in the Classical Theatre of Harlem’s boisterous new production, the locale has been radically shifted to a rooftop above a flooded landscape, a slope of shingles replacing the script’s mound, three feet of water covering the rest of the set. Vladimir and Estragon find themselves in a kind of post-Katrina New Orleans, enduring their existential comedy half on top of their isolated building, half in the water that surrounds it. Call this Wading for Godot.

Director Christopher McElroen and designer Troy Hourie’s production is not for purists. Or for Beckett himself, who was famously resistant to reconceptions of his plays. Their loss. While not perfect, CTH’s literally splashy production—Pozzo arrives in an inflatable dinghy pulled by Lucky—demonstrates how misplaced such dramaturgical rigidity can be. McElroen exploits Godot‘s inherent flexibility, the room the script allows for reimagining and rehearing; it’s an underused, often resisted aspect of the play’s genius. McElroen may go too far, though, with his Katrina references (scrawling “GODOT!” as a rescue cry on the rooftop, for example). The flood imagery is evocative and fun, but tying the play too tightly to one historical event diminishes some of its necessary opaqueness.

The Classical Theatre of Harlem can be counted on for strong acting, and Godot is no exception. J. Kyle Manzay makes a sweetish Gogo; Chris McKinney plays Pozzo with a vigorous frustration (though he could ratchet up his menace). Billy Eugene Jones is an affecting Lucky, almost always chest-deep in water. But this Godot belongs to Wendell Pierce’s Didi. A bearish clown one moment, a lost soul with hangdog eyes the next, Pierce—through this comic, moving portrayal—shows just how humane the theater of the absurd can actually be.




HERE Arts Center, 145 Sixth Avenue, 212-647-0202,

July 22-August 24: The American Living Room is well into its adolescence now, offering up its 14th year of summer programming. The work is always unpredictable—sometimes good, sometimes vastly less so—but it’s all done in a healthy spirit of experiment. Some possible highlights: Boring (Boing!), a performance piece about self-destructive youth culture told through Nintendo and drinking games (July 17-18); Girls on the Rocks, a “multimedia Baroque spectacle exploring the sexually charged myth of the siren” (August 14); and Tulip Heaven—a tale about where tulips go when they die (July 31-August 1).


Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex, 312 West 36th Street, 212-279-4200,

July 14-August 3: Impresario John Chatterton mounts his pre-Fringe fest, this year focusing on new musicals. His Web site notes: “We don’t stuff the Festival with zany productions whose chief recommendation is a long title or one with ‘sex’ in it.” He also especially welcomes shows with large casts—so the series is a good place to break out your Crimean War tuner.


HERE Arts Center, 145 Sixth Avenue, 212-647-0202,

June 16-July 5: HERE and Dixon Place have combined their queer theater projects into one festival called “Fuse,” which will comprise innumerable gay- and lesbian-themed events. Among them: Bang-a-Gong, a short evening of works in progress curated by Ellie Covan; Cabaret Macabre, a late-night show described as “an evening of lounge acts for a futuristic underworld”; Hybrids, a series of multimedia works; and an Erotic Puppetry Parlor curated by Obie winner Basil Twist.


Washington Square Park, West 4th and McDougal streets

August 1-31: Though I thought last year was supposed to be Gorilla Rep’s final season, they’re back this summer with two outdoor shows: their traditional production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and a new play titled Fool, by Victor Kaufold. You can find them doing it up for free in the southwest corner of Washington Square Park, Thursday through Sunday at 8 p.m. Theater you can smoke to.


Ohio Theatre, 66 Wooster Street, 212-966-4844,

July 9-August 16: Soho Think Tank continues its fine sum-mer series, with weekends of work by Lenora Champagne, Salt Theater, adobe theater, Montreal’s Sabooge Theatre, Philly’s noted Lecoq ensemble Pig Iron Theater, and a run of David Greenspan’s The Myopia, receiving what may be the cult piece’s longest public run.


Various venues, 212-875-5766,

July 1-27: Two productions provide the main theater component of this summer’s Lincoln Center Festival. Israel’s Itim Theatre Ensemble mounts Mythos—an interpretation of Aeschylus’ Oresteia with a cast of Israeli, Palestinian-Israeli, and Ethiopian-Israeli actors. Somewhat more ambitious-sounding is Deborah Warner’s The Angel Project. The Medea director’s piece is described as both “a physical journey and a journey of the imagination,” traversing several surprise sites throughout Manhattan. (Though not, I’m guessing, one of those front tables at Elaine’s, since Keith Hernandez probably hates theater.)


Lincoln Center Plaza, Broadway and 65th Street, 212-875-5766,

August 23-24: Fiesta de los Locos sounds like a regular day around my neighborhood, but it’s actually Teatro Guirigai of Madrid’s presentation of street theater “in the European tradition.” As such, expect lots of busking and excellent train service.


P.S.122, 150 First Avenue

New York Theatre Workshop, 79 East 4th Street, 718-782-2621,

June 3-14: Danny Hoch and the folks behind the “NYC Hip-Hop Theater Festival” offer a broad palette of contempo-urban performance. Over 25 pieces, among them an opening-night show by dancer Bill “Crutchmaster” Shannon; Solo for Two, a multimedia dance-theater event from France; Angela’s Mixtape, a red-diaper-baby tale about growing up with Angela Davis. BYO bling-bling.


Various venues, 212-279-4488,

August 8-24: Back for its seventh year, one can now safely say that FringeNYC has become an institution (though the Present Company’s decampment from Stanton Street will require a new Fringe Central). Better venues in recent years have decreased the sweat-box factor, and the success of Urinetown (and partial success of Debbie Does Dallas) has raised the festival’s profile in the eyes of the larger theatergoing public. Nearly 200 shows and performances from around the world, plus lots of drinking.


Delacorte Theater, Central Park, 212-539-8750,

June 24-August 10: For the second year in a row, Central Park’s Delacorte Theater will see only one Shakespeare in the Park production—this time Henry V, directed by Mark Wing-Davey. Expect the Bard deficit to be made up, though, by the performance of Liev Schreiber, one of New York’s finest actors and winner of an Obie Award for his performance in the New York Shakespeare Festival production of Cymbeline a few summers back.


Motor City Madhouse

Whatever its strengths or weaknesses as drama, Leon Chase’s The Last Carburetor (Access) clearly creates theatrical history: It’s no doubt the first play to ever make metaphor out of a 1970 Plymouth Barracuda. One can only imagine what Ibsen would have done with it, or the meaning Chekhov might have wrung from a ’71 Dodge Charger.

Indeed, muscle cars are sorely lacking in the theatrical canon. Chase tries to insert his with a working-class family drama set outside Detroit. Patriarch Doug is a former steelworker now reduced to mopping floors and moping about his absent wife. Son Josh works as a bounty hunter—”skip tracing” he insists it’s called. Daughter Ayla is off at college, embarrassed by her Midwestern white-trash family. Keith, the son who made good, has just returned from San Francisco, where he suffered a nervous breakdown, tossing his girlfriend over and his laptop into the bay. The Barracuda sits unseen offstage, a four-wheeled version of the malfunctioning family.

Keith serves as the play’s focal point. His inauspicious return begins with a night spent in a ditch near the family’s home. His breakdown has left him in a hyperactive quest for both the true nature of reality and a deeper understanding of his past and family. Because of his computer expertise, he likes to analyze the underlying systems of life—down to the atomization of all activity. He returns unaware of his father’s misfortunes, but still able to feud with his brother Josh—a prototypical Michigan redneck who cleans his shotgun in the house. (The gun introduced in the first act does indeed go off in the second.) Keith also discovers his old girlfriend Karen waitressing at the local diner. Because of their earlier romantic unhappiness, her feelings about Keith’s return are painfully ambiguous.

That’s only part of Chase’s plot, which, while ambitious, suffers from what seems like three families’ traumas. (Others: Ayla’s Vietnamese American boyfriend meeting her Vietnam vet dad; the mysterious nature of mom’s disappearance; Karen’s own mental struggles.) Though the overloaded script plays a bit sluggish, Chase does show promise—he writes with heart and a nice feel for engaged language. Actor Jeremy Schwartz overdoes Keith’s tics, but he successfully captures the character’s depth and confusion. Paul Witte’s Josh rings truest, a “downriver” Detroiter if there ever was one—though director Susanna L. Harris’s no-frills production forsakes the atmospheric Michigan accents all these characters would speak with. Here’s hoping that, next time out, Chase strips down the plot and soups up the dramatic engine.






HERE Arts Center, 145 Sixth Avenue, 647-0202,

July 13-September 1: Though I don’t remember saying it, I’m credited with having once described HERE’s “American Living Room” summer festival as “the best and worst in New York theater.” Or something clever like that. In any case, it’s couches, beer, and more plays than you can shake John Simon at. Possible highlights: Zulieka, or an Oxford Love Story, adapted by Erik Sniedze from the novel by Max Beerbohm; Brian Rogers’s Fundamental, a “satirical collage of late-night radio rants, image-obsessed media personalities, TV psychics, professional wrestlers, and fundamentalist zealots”; and Andrea Lepcio’s Vampire Savior — tagged as a “horror metal musical.”


Various venues, 330-8086

June 13-September 11: Gorilla Rep mounts a slate of 10 outdoor theater events for its 10th and apparently last season. Too many shows to list here, but highlights could include St. Mary’s Catholic Girls School English 201 Class Presents “Romeo and Juliet” at the Central Park Bandshell (June 13-July 7); a revival of Mac Wellman’s A Murder of Crows at the Corlears Hook Amphitheater (June 20-July 12); and, from August 8 to September 1, their now perennial Midsummer Night’s Dream in Washington Square Park, which will no doubt be accompanied by the sound of coke dealing and cries of “Get the Puck out of here!”


Various venues, 718-782-2621,

June 18-29


Broadway and 65th Street, 875-5928,

July 9-13 Pacific Overtures: More Sondheim for NYC, but here his 1976 collaboration with John Weidman is mounted by the New National Theatre Tokyo. The imported production, which tells the story of the westernization of Japan, will be performed in Japanese in a modified Avery Fisher Hall, using a traditional hanamichi stage that passes through the audience, creating a little easternization of Lincoln Center.

July 12-13 Logic of the Birds

July 17-21 Gong Khab Zadeh: Attila Pessyani’s play has allegedly only been performed in living rooms in Tehran, due to the political constraints of producing theater in Iran. The dialogue-less piece, set against a video background, is intriguingly inspired by four other plays: Gibson’s The Miracle Worker, Handke’s Kaspar, Ionesco’s The Lesson, and Sophocles’ Antigone.

July 23-24 Happiness: Laurie Anderson gets real simple, apparently, in her new show for the Lincoln Center Festival. After years of tech-based performance art, Anderson is creating her new solo piece around mostly acoustic instruments. According to the advance press materials, Anderson says she’s been “experimenting with putting myself in extremely unfamiliar and awkward situations. So this piece will include a kind of report of these experiences.” Expect a word or two about that stint of hers in a Chinatown McDonald’s.

July 23-28 The Battle of Stalingrad: The Republic of Georgia’s Rezo Gabriadze blends puppetry, film, and poetry to tell the story of Stalingrad’s near destruction in World War II. Performed in Russian, the piece is described by Lincoln Center as part personal reflection and part lament of the absurdities of war. This NYC premiere will be accompanied by Autumn of Our Springtime, Gabriadze’s puppet version of a Georgian folktale.


Various venues, 420-8877,

August 9-25: FringeNYC is back for its sixth year, with two and a half weeks of shows mounted in venues across the Lower East Side. Both a semi-makeshift celebration of theater and a running beer party, the fest also offers the possibility of unearthing the next big thing. Just ask Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann, the delightfully pee-brained folks behind Broadway’s Urinetown, which made its debut at the Fringe.


HERE Arts Center, 145 Sixth Ave, 647-0202,

June 20-June 29: The folks at HERE once again greet Gay Pride Month with a theatrical celebration of all things gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, you name it. Two weeks’ worth of shows include, among others, a “bawdy, comic romp” called Lesbian Pulp-O-Rama; The Mystique of Fly, a spoken-word evening by lesbians of color; and the Arthur Miller classic Cornholed! A Trailor Trash Fashion Show.


Delacorte Theater, Central Park, 539-8750,

June 25-August 11: Sad newsfor picnic-basket vendors all over Manhattan: There’s only one New York Shakespeare Festival production in Central Park this summer. (Budget constraints and whatnot at the Public). Brian Kulick’s production of Twelfth Night will feature Kristen Johnston, Julia Stiles, Christopher Lloyd, Oliver Platt, and Jimmy Smits in the noted Illyrian jaunt. To compensate for the absence of a second park show, the Public promises that Twelfth Night will enjoy a longer run than usual.


Ohio Theatre, 66 Wooster Street, 439-4895

July 4-17: Ah, a happily airy theater for sweltery July. The Ohio Theatre’s annual summer festival kicks off with Soho honcho Robert Lyons’s nicely titled No Meat, No Irony. Included in the roster of other shows, all of which run for four performances: Rebecca Ramirez’s Catcall, Trav S.D.’s Sea of Love, and Works Productions’ version of Moby Dick, the story of the big one that got away.


Various venues, 307-4100

June 11-June 15: In 2001, the “Toyota Comedy Festival” brought Dave Chapelle to Carnegie Hall. For the 10-year anniversary follow-up, Bill Cosby steps into the light (June 12), while Carl Reiner and Joy Behar hold down the fort at the 92nd St. Y (June 11). The Gerry Red Wilson Foundation benefit (June 11), featuring Colin Quinn, Jim Breuer, Lewis Black, etc., offers a solid younger lineup. And there are other, even fresher names you might not know: racy Sarah Silverman (June 14), and Louis C.K. and Greg Giraldo (various). (Peretti)


Have Gun, Will Travail

Theater Rule #206: Never believe the hype about shows shipped in from California, especially from Los Angeles. Maybe the dominance of the film and TV industries there leads theater audiences to overprize their marginalized art form. Perhaps the L.A. scene is just your basic small pond, where any half-decent play achieves an inflated reputation. Whatever. Years of theatergoing have taught me that West Coast laurels often mean East Coast blues.

Take Speed Hedda, a drag version of Hedda Gabler produced by L.A.’s Fabulous Monsters Performance Group (La MaMa). Adapted and directed by the troupe’s founder, Robert Prior, Speed Hedda shifts the Ibsen classic to 1962, Hedda now a rich L.A. type dressed in pseudo Chanel. Ibsen’s basic plot is intact, though significantly trimmed and augmented with cars and a hi-fi set. Actor Mark Brey plays Hedda, lipsticked and high of cheekbone, leading the unhappy Mrs. Tesman through discontent to eventual doom. “Everything I touch,” she says, “turns to horseshit in my hands.”

Hedda Gabler seems a natural for camp treatment. But camp wore out its welcome years ago, and only a few performers can power through drag’s misogynistic showboating to get to something worthwhile (c.f. Kiki and Herb). Prior and company try to steer a middle course between Ibsen’s intentions and camp’s excesses. The result is an occasionally amusing comedy, but one with few outright laughs and little emotional depth. The cast can be appealing—especially Brey, Tim Dunaway’s fluttery Thea, and Robert Navarett’s deadpan Berte—but they’re all wigged up with nowhere really to go.

Prior does a finer job with his ’60s period costumes and inventive set design. Everything’s done up in black, white, and gray, to create the effect of an old movie. A video screen broadcasts title credits and taped between-scene action. All of which gives Speed Hedda the feel of a pleasingly noir Dick Van Dyke Show.


Headin’ South

Can the horrors of slavery be made cliché? Pushed one too many times through the pasta mill of art, I’m afraid so—as demonstrated by Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, a virtuous but shopworn play about the legacy of the “peculiar institution.”

The two-hour piece, created by Kamal Sinclair Steele and Universal Arts, begins with a “discussion” among performers seated in the audience. The 10 actors—black, white, and somewhere in between—bat around their experiences and opinions of race. Meant to sound like a natural exchange, the dialogue feels cringingly forced. The troupe then moves to the stage and begins their show. The play’s first section means to explain racial axiology—how black and white value systems differ because of deep historical experience. The second section consists of a loose collection of episodes telling the story of slavery in America, acted out against a backdrop of archival slide projections. Along the way, the company attempts to illustrate “post traumatic slave syndrome”—a theory proposed by Portland State University’s Dr. Joy DeGruy-Leary. A parallel to post-traumatic stress syndrome, it argues that contemporary African American psychology is hopelessly linked to the wounds of slavery.

The Universal Arts ensemble, all talented performers, has a palpable commitment to the material. And parts of that material are quite strong: A scene where a slave mother watches her raped daughter endure what appears to be a forced miscarriage is deeply upsetting. There’s clearly no arguing with the atrocity of slavery, or the emotional whack of seeing its miseries acted out onstage. But slavery is hardly news, and successfully addressing it through theater at this point in time demands a fresh aesthetic.

That ain’t happening here. The troupe, directed by Robbie McCauley, includes several fine performers (Felami Burgess and Donald E. Jones II, especially), but we’ve seen this history and this earnest, barefoot acting crew many times before. (A more modern theatrical take on racism was recently seen in Clarinda Mac Low and James Hannaham’s The Division of Memory at P.S. 122. A slippery, multimedia rumination on Dr. Ernest Everett Just, a black pioneering cell researcher, the piece offered just the sort of contempo approach the subject begs for.)

Steele’s play attempts thematic innovation by exploring DeGruy-Leary’s theory. “Post traumatic slave syndrome,” though, sounds like only a repackaged version of the usual analyses of race pathology (at least as boiled down here). More problematic is the reductiveness of much of the script’s thinking, which too often rests on crude racial generalizations. Especially glaring: a simplistic argument that the conflicting value systems of blacks and whites evolved from each group’s deep-historical relation to food production. White northern Europeans are competitive, dominating types obsessed with counting because they had only a three-month growing season. Africans/blacks are more relaxed about life because of the abundant food in their hospitable clime. Since their ancestors lived in a more nurturing agricultural environment, modern blacks aren’t so attuned to the clock—that’s an inherited white uptightness. Read backwards, the piece could be seen as a warning to white employers not to hire black folks, because it’s not in black people’s nature to show up for work on time.

God bless Canada. First it gave the world the manifold joys of Hockey Night in Canada. Now it’s presented us with En Français, Comme en Anglais, It’s Easy to Criticize, a captivating performance piece by Jacob Wren and PME, mounted at P.S. 122. Toronto-Quebec kissing cousins of ERS and Collapsable Giraffe, but more somber and purposeful, the five-member group has created a collage that’s part dance, part social critique, part heady fucking around.

Four tables supporting stereo equipment anchor the dimly lit stage. Lacking a conventional plot, the piece comprises a sequence of moments that appear random but have their own internal logic. Performers Martin Bélanger and Tracy Wright discuss theorist Gilles Deleuze on one side of the stage; on the other, two women (Julie Andrée T. and Sylvie Lachance) dance together silently. Bélanger disappears, but later speaks in French over a walkie-talkie illuminated by a spotlight. Wren runs repeatedly between the front and back of the stage, delivering a monologue on how the World Trade Center attack has confused his piece’s critique of bourgeois comfort. The ensemble stops for a group discussion of the work. Wright confronts Wren, complaining that the last thing the world needs is another boy genius. The group breaks into dance, sometimes ecstatic, sometimes gently coordinated. Andrée T. has a particularly compelling presence—her sullenness only makes her movement more fascinating.

Alternately hypnotic and amusing, En Français—like much postmodern work—interrogates the idea of the performance itself. But it never fails to be that performance, and a damn good one. “The real avant-garde is to be found in doing nothing,” Wren observes, despairing of the action-driven, media-saturated world. He and his ensemble have happily ignored their own counsel.


Web Sites Through History

In the great sweep of history, the Internet is a recent invention. Below, some riches we might have enjoyed had the Web booted up a little earlier. (1961)

The #1 fan page for everyone’s favorite Beatle. Trade gossip on who Pete’s been kissing in Liverpool. View pics of the drummer and his loyal mates gigging at the Cavern Club. Read Pete’s online diary. This week’s post: “How I’ll Spend My Millions Once the Beatles Hit the Big Time.” (1931)

Brought to you by the vaunted French military, this site documents the operation of the most imposing defensive perimeter in Europe. Stretching from Switzerland in the south to the impenetrable Ardennes in the north, the Maginot Line means big guns, long tunnels, and the kind of national security France has never known. In case of attack, you can watch on our webcam as the Germans charge right toward it. (1881)

A must for disappointed office seekers. Host Charles Guiteau’s site includes a chat room about small-bore weaponry and links to presidential travel schedules. “This site’s a winner!” —Vice President Chester A. Arthur. (1871)

A peek into the world of Emily Dickinson, America’s most reclusive poet. Watch Emily shuffle around her bedroom. See Emily talk through the door to visitors. Watch Emily shake uncontrollably as she opens party invitations. (1861)

The world’s newest nation, the Confederate States of America, kicks things off cyber-style with its official homepage. Click on “Stars” for bios of folks like Jefferson Davis and John C. Calhoun. Click on “Bars” for laws against miscegenation. Visit “Mason-Dixon Lines,” our party-joke section. And remember—nothing secedes like success! (1683)

The world’s biggest online slave-trading community. Be first to market with your sugarcane! After looking over the cost of the human beings, enter your user ID and password, then click the “Place Bid” button. (Shipping not included.) (1212)

The Catholic Church and Pope Innocent III invite you to join something we’d call a jihad, if the word weren’t already taken by the other side. Through streaming video, site users can follow Stephen of Cloyes and 30,000 devoted children as they depart Marseilles and head to Palestine to face down hordes of well-armed Muslim soldiers. Most spectacular will be Stephen’s parting of the Mediterranean, which will knock months off the kids’ journey and be great for collecting shells. With the Holy Sepulchre back in hand, it’s ice cream for everyone. (1900 B.C.)

The Web site for adult survivors of attempted childhood sacrifice. An online support group for anyone who knows what it’s like to have your dad drag you up a mountain, hold a dagger to your heart, and nearly kill you to appease an angry god. (We also speak Mayan.) (12,000 B.C.)



Nada Gets the Boot

On November 14, a city marshal shut down Nada. The Ludlow Street theater, no stranger to money woes, was unable to pay nearly $19,000 in back rent. The landlord, Ludlow Properties, now controls the space. Despite the closing, Nada artistic director Aaron Beall is hoping that a capital campaign to raise a year’s advance rent might open the venue’s doors again.

Though a famously cramped theater, with performances punctuated by street noise and the clomping of upstairs neighbors, Nada played a vital role in the downtown community. The space, recently renamed Nada Classic, produced two or three shows a night, seven days a week. Almost anyone who’s written, acted, or directed downtown over the past 12 years probably worked at Nada at some point. Target Margin, Deb Margolin, Reno, Elevator Repair Service, Todd Alcott, Arden Party, John Leguizamo, Marc Spitz, and the Neo-Futurists are just a few of the artists who mounted shows in the space. (Fittingly, one of the last plays presented at Nada was a revival of Crowbar, Mac Wellman’s Obie-winning play about a closed, haunted theater.) Nada was relatively inexpensive to rent, and served as a real theatrical laboratory. Some shows were good, lots were bad, but people got a chance to learn their craft.

Nada began in 1988 as Theater Club Funambules, founded by Beall, Tim Carryer, and Babs Bailey. After Carryer and Bailey departed in 1991, the theater changed its name to Nada (then later to Todo con Nada). In 1997, the Nada empire expanded to include the Piano Store, at 158 Ludlow, and the House of Candles, around the corner at 99 Stanton Street (sites now rented to other tenants). Beall also briefly ran Nada 45, at 445 West 45th Street, and currently operates Nada Show World, in the remains of the vaunted Times Square porn palace.

Like many theaters, Nada often had difficulty paying its rent, now $2875 per month. The gentrification of Ludlow Street—which Nada helped kindle—and the 1997 sale of the building to Ludlow Properties intensified pressure on the space. (Ludlow Properties did not return phone calls seeking comment.)

Nada had been in and out of court for years, the theater’s rent battles as much a part of its lore as the windowless basement that housed site director Ian Hill and the random Ludlow Street rat. But the landlord hasn’t been the only person with money complaints. Some artists who’ve worked at the Nada theaters over the past few years have their own financial laments. Graham Brown, who produced his shows Tripping and Seascape With Shark and Dancer at Nada and the Piano Store in the fall of 1999, says Beall still owes him $916 in box office. Tim Cusack, who curated a festival of Ridiculous Theater revivals last July, claims Beall has not paid him between $1000 and $1500 in box office. Susan Bowen says she’s yet to see her $600 in box office for the September-October 1999 run of her show Scratch. Laura Penney claims she has not received any of her box office from 42 performances of her show What a Piece of Work Is Dan, which ran at Nada Show World from May to October of 1999. Beall admits that he owes Brown, Cusack, and Bowen money, though he disputes Penney’s claim, because of a disagreement over the installation of some lighting equipment. “All debts will be paid,” Beall insists. “All the money has gone to keep Nada alive.” Beall sounds sincere in his desire to pay people back, though some aggrieved artists claim he makes box office deals he knows he can’t keep. (By way of disclosure, I had two plays presented at Nada, both good experiences.)

Verse playwright Kirk Wood Bromley, who once worked on the Nada staff, says he’s thankful for the opportunities Beall gave both him and many others. He believes Nada’s troubles come from mismanagement and failure to pursue grants (he also describes Beall as a “papyrophobe”—resistant to putting anything down on paper). Downtown theater folks have become “burned out” on Nada’s troubles, he says, and production energy has shifted to venues like the St. Marks Theater and the Kraine.

Beall hopes his fundraising drive to pay the next year’s rent up front will appease Ludlow Properties. Should the theater revive, he’s hoping to improve its vibe with yet another name change, this time from Nada to Todo Downtown.


Klumper Stumper

Eddie Murphy is back in college, but his Nutty Professor II: The Klumps suffers from a serious case of sophomore slump. The last time we saw Professor Sherman Klump, in 1996’s The Nutty Professor, he’d invented a formula that jiggered fat people’s DNA to make them thin. Despairing at how his girth kept him from romance, Sherman downed a vial of the brew—which made him skinny indeed, but also transformed the sweet-souled researcher into his obnoxious, testosterone-fueled alter ego, Buddy Love. The movie’s big conceit, though, was Murphy—in elaborate fat prosthetics—playing five members of the garrulous, overweight Klump family. Their profane dinner repartee was often hilarious.

This time around, Sherman has invented a fountain-of-youth potion, which the college dean wants to sell to raise cash. After a lab accident, Buddy Love springs free of Sherman’s body and plots his own scheme to peddle the concoction—causing mayhem for the school and derailing Sherman’s relationship with new girlfriend Denise (a dewy Janet Jackson). Meanwhile, Sherman’s family carries on its ribald ways, complicated by Papa Klump’s ingestion of some of Sherman’s secret sauce (which looks suspiciously like the cough syrup I’ve been swilling all week).

Murphy’s first Nutty Professor was a funny, even charming effort. Sherman was a surprisingly sympathetic creature, his family an entertaining dystopia. Murphy’s new chronicle of higher education is pitched louder and cruder, but to much less effect. The Klumps are still an amusing crew, but the gag gets tired despite Murphy’s wonderful multiple-personality theatrics. Swamped by tit jokes and a numbingly busy plot, Sherman’s romantic woes only seem saccharine here, not endearing.

Please note that The Klumps depicts a staple of faculty life rarely written up in Lingua Franca: anal rape by giant hamster. Department chairs may wince, but the eight-year-old sitting next to me found it especially droll.