Zip: Two Boots Brings Bawdiness to Bard With Filthy Gorgeous Burlesque
By Robert Warren
You can pull all the stops out ‘till they call the cops out,
Grind your behind till you’re banned.
But you gotta get a gimmick if you wanna get a hand!
—Miss Mazeppa, from the Sondheim/Styne musical Gypsy
“It’s high time we exposed the Hudson Valley to Filthy Gorgeous Burlesque,” says Two Boots Hudson Valley owner Phil Hartman. “It’s outrageous, equally fun for men and women, and tastes good with pizza!” It’s also a great gimmick.
Hartman knows gimmicks: his Two Boots franchise, serving Cajun food and pizza, gets its name from the boot shapes of Louisiana and Italy, the locales from which those cuisines spring. This irresistible hook – along with consistently great food and business savvy – has helped turn one East Village restaurant into a thriving fifteen-location empire. The newest addition does gangbuster business in Red Hook, where Filthy Gorgeous Burlesque, on Friday, Nov. 8th at 9 PM, raises the rafters with bawdy fare not seen in this neck of the woods since the days of the Borscht Belt.
New Yorker Hartman, however, is no stranger to burlesque. Although absent from the Red Hook region, the ribaldry made famous by such vamps as April March (above) and Tiffany Carter in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, has enjoyed a nationwide resurgence since the late 90s, especially in Manhattan. In that relatively healthy scene, Hartman and Filthy Gorgeous Burlesque creator, Brooklynite Jen Gapay, enjoy an ongoing partnership. “Jen’s a mover and a shaker – though not on stage – in the burlesque community,” he says. “She and I have worked together on a slew of events – the HOWL! Festival, multiple Mardi Gras Balls to benefit the Lower Eastside Girls Club, and a long-running burlesque series at Two Boots Bridgeport.”
The genial Gapay, who also created the wildly successful New York Burlesque Festival, is looking forward to this particular event. She says Filthy Gorgeous Burlesque is tailor-made for clientele like Bard students, i.e. Two Boots Hudson Valley’s usual patrons. “It’s more hip than the regular classic burlesque that older couples would appreciate,” she says. “In classic burlesque, you have pretty long routines, almost like skits, like fifteen or twenty minutes long. But we’re the short-attention span generation, so each Filthy Gorgeous Burlesque act does about five minutes. Plus, there’ll be magic from host Albert Cadabra. So it’s more like an overview of burlesque, more edgy.” (Although modernized, Gapay’s crew keeps to the age-old burlesque etiquette of stripping down to pasties and a G-string; no performer is ever completely nude.)
Coincidentally, the multi-faceted Cadabra, who bills himself as The Great Deceiver, Master of Illusion and Charm, grew up in nearby Rhinebeck, attended Rhinebeck High School, and graduated from Bard. He has since brought many gasps and laughs to comedy clubs, cabarets, Off-Broadway, and his running gig with Ripley’s Believe It of Not in Times Square, at which he routinely hammers nails into his nostrils and performs magic. “Albert performs in a lot of sideshows,” says Gapay. “I thought he’d be really good for the college kids.”
The Two Boots Hudson Valley engagement isn’t the first Filthy Gorgeous Burlesque. “It’s usually a Valentine event at the Highline Ballroom in Manhattan,” says Gapay. “It’s like a variety show: there’s The Maine Attraction [far left], who does a lot of Josephine Baker-style stuff, plus some audience participation. She dances into the crowd, does a headstand in a chair in someone’s lap.” Gapay laughs. “She’s a lot of fun, as close to classic burlesque as this show gets. Then we have Rosie 151 [center], who does a number where she dresses as a cowboy and cracks a whip, then Brewster, a boylesque performer. After that, you get Broadway Brassy [top right], an amazing singer who does a lot of parody songs, makes “‘Ain’t Misbehavin’’ extra dirty, and finally Boo Boo Darlin’ [bottom right], the Carol Burnett of Burlesque, who’s a great comedienne.”
How does Gapay, who moved her successful business Thirsty Girl Productions from Seattle to New York in 2000, account for the burlesque revival of the last fifteen or so years? “People like to say it was because Giuliani closed the sex shops in Times Square,” she says, “and that created a need for something. But I think it’s thrived because it wasn’t started by a corporation, which made it easier for performers and producers, on a local level, to take control and do their own thing. Performers are really supportive of each other when they’re touring. It’s a real community.”
Gapay’s New York Burlesque Festival, in fact, has seen an explosion of interest. It’s become the oldest and most regular burlesque event in the country. “Our first year, we just asked our friends to come,” she says. “This past year, we had almost 500 performers apply. We were the first, but now there are festivals in Toronto, Chicago, Dallas, even Iowa City!”
Curious? Of course you are. To see what folks from Iowa to Toronto are gaga about, come get an eyeful of tassels, glitter, gams, and gimmicks a-blazin’ at the Filthy Gorgeous Burlesque show at Two Boots Hudson Valley in Red Hook.
Filthy Gorgeous Burlesque
Friday, November 8
Doors at 9 p.m., show at 10 p.m.
Two Boots Hudson Valley
4606 Route 9G, Red Hook, NY
$15 advance, $20 at the door
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Review: “Clybourne Park” at Barrington Stage
There’s a new word—“authentrification”—that developers in New York City are using to justify renovating buildings that once served low-income communities and turning them into “authentic” hangouts for free-spending hipsters. Is this awesome or awful? The vicissitudes of gentrification are at the heart of Bruce Norris’s articulate, searing and funny Clybourne Park, which has been given the Broadway-worthy production we’ve come to expect from Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield (running through October 13.)
Described as a sequel to A Raisin in the Sun, the 2011 Pulitzer Prize-winning Clybourne Park is the story of a white family in 1959 that is about to sell their very lovely house in an all-white middle class neighborhood of Chicago to an African American family; it then fast forwards 50 years when a young, affluent white couple buys the house and plans to extravagantly renovate it in a way that might have a devastating domino effect on the historic and now racially mixed neighborhood. You don’t have to remember A Raisin in the Sun to be startled, disturbed and thoroughly entertained by this play that weaves together race and real estate, two of our nation’s most primal and personal obsessions.
Produced in conjunction with Vermont’s Dorset Theatre Festival, Clybourne Park is a play that raises more questions than it answers, in the tradition of Arthur Miller and Edward Albee. It’s less a morality tale than an ethical puzzle: In our market-driven society, home is not a birthright but a prize that goes to the highest bidder. The American Dream of home ownership, it turns out, is as much about anxiety as security.
The text cleverly lays out our relationship to our notion of place in the first few minutes when the white homeowner Russ (empathetically played by Remi Sandri) and his wife Bev (the divine Carol Halstead) discuss the etymology of “Neapolitan”—he is eating a carton of tri-colored ice cream as Bev cleans out the icebox before the move—and they wonder why the people of Naples are called Neapolitans, which leads to a discussion about the difference between “Mongoloids” and “Mongolese.” The clever banter lays a foundation for the play, which is a meditation on identity and place.
One of the treats of Clybourne Park is that all of the actors play new roles in the second act, so you get a clear sense of just how talented and versatile they are. As the 1950s housewife whose perkiness is a form of denial, Carol Halstead keeps her character from being a caricature, and then becomes a world-weary, hot-shot Chicago lawyer in Act II. Lynette R. Freeman as her uncomplaining-but-seething housekeeper in the first act emerges as a vivacious-but-resolute concerned neighbor after the intermission.
All of the actors are at the top of their game: Kevin Crouch as a Capraesque preacher and then a lawyer who’s gay-but-it’s-hard-to-tell; Greg Jackson as both the vintage and contemporary version of the uptight, supercilious neighbor; Andy Lucien as the conscientious African American husband who defies stereotyping in two different eras; Clea Alsip as a pregnant, deaf woman in Act I and then the loquacious wife who is willing to berate her husband in front of strangers in Act II.
The direction by Giovanna Sardelli makes the production run like an expensive Swiss watch: It’s so well calibrated that it moves along with precision and a sense of inevitability. The only disappointment is that the play doesn’t have an Act III, because you’d be happy to spend another hour watching these fine actors deliver Norris’s crisp and cutting dialogue.
Clybourne Park (through October 13)
Barrington Stage Company
30 Union Street
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Frenemies, A Love/Hate Story: “Scott and Hem in the Garden of Allah” at Barrington Stage
Photos by Kevin Sprague
By Jeremy D. Goodwin
With friends like this, who needs enemies?
The simplest reference to famed literary frenemies F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway conjures a sense of Jazz Age glamour, a romantic notion of novelists as pop stars, living off the largesse of their rich friends while the culture careened unsuspectingly toward a devastating crash. Indeed, Hemingway thought Fitzgerald romanticized the rich, though just a glance at The Great Gatsby reveals a more nuanced view of the emptiness that can eat at the foundations of even the best-preserved artifice.
What’s sometimes forgotten now is that Fitzgerald died in 1940 an apparent failure, creatively washed up and a seeming anachronism in a time of economic uncertainty and darkening war clouds. He made a living writing short stories and essays for magazines, cultivating a bit of a sad-sack persona and making three separate, unsuccessful attempts at success as a Hollywood screenwriter. He was working on a fifth novel at the time of his fatal heart attack at age 44, unaware he’d later be lionized as one of the great literary voices of the century.
For his engaging new play Scott and Hem in the Garden of Allah, Mark St. Germain imagines a final meeting between Fitzgerald and Hemingway, while Scott was writing away on an MGM assembly line of sorts (he’s aghast to hear his latest script pages described as “spare dialogue” in case the actors don’t like their original lines) and his garrulous old friend was riding high on popular success.
The piece is St. Germain’s seventh world premiere at Barrington Stage Company (it was produced in July for the first leg of a two-part, “rolling” world premiere), and his first since the company’s second stage was named after him last year. In a twist, he also directs this one as well.
In one 80-minute act, Fitzgerald (played by Joey Collins, a holdover from the initial production) and Hemingway (brought to bombastic, mustachioed life by Ted Koch), alternately flatter, undermine, support, and tear at each other. Scott is facing a studio deadline and carefully avoiding alcohol—his new drink of choice is Coca-Cola and maple syrup. But the unannounced visitor Hemingway has time to kill, a bottle or two of whiskey to throw back and an agenda—to probe his friend about the painful details of his wife Zelda’s mental crack-up.
Conceptually, the obvious comparison is to St. Germain’s biggest hit Freud’s Last Session, for which he imagined a meeting between the titular psychoanalyst and C. S. Lewis. But whereas that play pitted the two academic types in a series of parries and responses on philosophical musings about the existence of God (or not), with little on the line in their personal relationship, this new play finds its central characters locking horns on less profound matters but with the sense that their lives depend on it. This time there are (metaphorical) blood and guts on the floor.
Collins plays Scott with a gentle Southern accent and a pained sense that his best days are behind him, but an almost bemused determination to taste each bitter drop of his personal and professional comeuppance. Koch provides the gregariousness we expect from the lion-hunting Hemingway, and a blustering confidence that thinly sheathes a deep layer of defensive uncertainty.
Unlike with Freud, St. Germain introduces a third character here, one who provides a dose of much-needed feminine energy and a chance for implied scene breaks as Fitzgerald occasionally retreats to his bedroom, leaving her to fend off his guest’s clumsy sexual intimations. Miss Evelyn Montaigne, an assistant to studio boss Louis B. Meyer charged with keeping Fitzgerald on schedule and off the bottle, is played by Angela Pierce, who appeared in the July production but joined this one midstream, with little rehearsal time, after another actress dropped out. Pierce wears a tight scowl through much of the play’s early going, but allows her character to open up a bit as we learn about her own vulnerabilities, and the unexpected ways that her fate is tied to Scott’s.
St. Germain’s direction (and writing) keeps things moving at a brisk pace while the tension steadily mounts, and a well-staged fight acts as a thunderstorm to break the heat temporarily as the night moves toward its conclusion. There are a couple of moments that are a little heavy-handed in their suggestion about the real source of Hemingway’s defensive machismo; we end up with the sense that St. Germain might have picked a sub-theme or two and run with them, rather than trying on as many as he does. (We also touch on and circle around the conflict between family life and creative success, Scott and Zelda’s rivalry, Hemingway’s fears about his own crack-up, and the efficacy of suicide.)
But the play’s final, heartbreaking moments come with a development that’s as unexpected as it is inevitable. There’s no romanticized bonhomie here; just three wounded people searching for a little bit of solace. Perhaps they might have found a way to support each other. But as if drowning, they can only flail around wildly and drag the others down with them.
Scott and Hem in the Garden of Allah
Written and directed by Mark St. Germain
At Barrington Stage Company through September 29
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Ghost Adventures: Edith Wharton Live (and in Spirit) at the Mount
By Sarah Ellen Rindsberg
It’s time to visit your stately but inviting neighbor in the Berkshires: Edith Wharton. Although the esteemed writer will not be there in the flesh to greet you, her spirit reigns in more ways than one. Which is a good thing: she was a lovely and wise woman; the vibe might be different if one was visiting Dostoevsky’s digs or Bayrueth for example.
The Mount, Wharton’s home in Lenox, is a hub of literary, dramatic, and intermittent paranormal activity. Her words jump off the page in dramatic renditions of her short stories adapted by The Wharton Salon, a company dedicated to the presentation of her works in site-specific locations. At the same time, members of the Mount staff give actual ghost tours. The plays, Two by Wharton: The Quicksand and The Looking Glass, adapted by Alison Ragland and Elaine Smith, run through August 25. The current version of the ghost tours is held until August 26, and then resumes September 6 through October 25, at which point they get spookier in anticipation of Halloween. There’s also a frequent invitation to tea, though that’s normally attended only by mortals.
“We’re performing a play in a place that has a connection to the person who wrote it,” says Catherine Taylor-Williams, Executive Director of the Salon. “You can feel that Wharton is there.”
During an evening performance in the stable, the play’s director, Daniela Varon, came on stage to deliver a welcome that was, appropriately, both humorous and a tad foreboding. She explained that the actress in the second play was a recent substitution. Varon mentioned a “tradition” of last-minute replacements. “This may have to do with the spirits,” she said, gesturing around the room.
Wharton’s short story, “The Quicksand,” appears first on the bill. The creation of this compelling play adaptation has its own literary tale to tell. Taylor-Williams reread several of Wharton’s stories and selected “Quicksand” for the current season, then contacted Alison Ragland and prepared to wait the requisite amount of time for the script. In an odd but fortunate coincidence, it turned out that Ragland already “had an adaptation in a drawer; she just polished it and sent it up.”
“Quicksand” is a story that, while about past lives, has very modern reverberations. A young lady named Hope Fenno, played by Ava Lindenmaier, finds herself mired in an unenviable position. If she accepts a marriage proposal from the man she loves, Alan Quentin, she will be compromising her principles. The obstacle standing in her way is Quentin’s ownership of The Radiator, a vehicle of yellow journalism whose articles, while designed to attract an avid readership, are destined to malign their subjects. Quentin (Wesley Cooper) asks his mother to plead his case with Fenno by demonstrating how she herself has lived a life separate from that of the paper. “I determined to ignore the paper altogether—to take what it gave as though I didn’t know where it came from,” Mrs. Quentin says. “And to excuse this I invented the theory that one may, so to speak, ‘purify’ money by putting it to good uses. I gave away a great deal in charity…” Here, we see evidence of Wharton’s own philanthropic actions during World War I. While living in Paris, she provided food and housing for 600 orphaned Belgian refugees.
After a spot of tea and cookies at intermission, we’re offered the richness of Wharton’s witticisms in “The Looking Glass.” The line, “A sin unrevealed is a sin uncommitted,” is greeted with a rousing chuckle from the audience. The protagonist, Cora Attlee (Jane Nichols), seeks to make the offstage attendees complicit in the telling of her tale: “Why shouldn’t you have the truth? You’ll not tell the good father,” she tells them. Attlee, a retired masseuse to the wealthy, proceeds to describe her transformation from her initial profession to that of clairvoyant. Many of her clients are desperate for “news” of their loved ones on the front, and she is happy to oblige. In one case, she takes more than a few liberties in creating a story to appease her favorite client who longed for news of a lover, drowned in the Titanic. “I knew it was wrong and immoral to help the love-making between a sick woman and a ghost,” Attlee acknowledges cheekily. Even in such elegant surroundings, death is a frequent leitmotif.
And now for the ghosts themselves. In 2009, investigators from the television series Ghost Hunters arrived at the Mount to determine the likelihood of the many reported sightings over the years. Their findings provide the inspiration for the ghost tours now on course at the Mount.
Grace Leathrum, one of the intrepid guides, recalls a sensation felt while waiting on the other side of a doorway while another guide was giving his spiel. (She prefaces her remark by mentioning Wharton’s fear of doorways.) “It distinctly felt like a hand on the back of my head,” Leathrum recalls. During her tours, cellphones, whose batteries appear to be fully charged, suddenly experience a decrease in energy when carried to the top floor of the stable. When attendees descend, power is magically restored.
Leathrum also recounts the experience of a visiting building inspector. When he went upstairs, he saw a black figure crouching in the corner, watching him. His parting words: “You have your permit. I’m not coming back.”
Reports of mysterious happenings in Wharton’s husband’s den also abound. Women on the tour often feel a hand on their back or the sensation that their hair is being pulled or parted. Leathrum provides insight from the findings of a team of psychics summoned to the Mount, “They said they’d never been in a room with so much paranormal activity,” she says.
To sum up, Leathrum says, “We’re here to tell you fascinating stories that’ve happened over the years. But we let you draw your own conclusions.”
The Mount, Edith Wharton’s Home
The Wharton Salon performs Two by Wharton: The Quicksand and The Looking Glass
Now - August 25
Monday, August 26 @ 7:30 p.m.; Friday evenings at 5:45 p.m. and 7 p.m. from September 6 through October 25.
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Olympia Dukakis Still Has the “Courage” in Her
Play photos by Enrico Spada
By Jeremy D. Goodwin
When tackling the works of its namesake playwright, Shakespeare & Company puts the text of a play at the forefront but otherwise makes no obeisance to inherited notions about how a given play is “supposed” to be staged. So as some of the troupe’s leading artists get down and dirty in the rehearsal studio with the challenging work of Bertolt Brecht, it’s no great surprise to learn they’re freely following their own impulses to put an original spin on things.
After a barnburner of a The Tempest last season — for which grande dame Olympia Dukakis creatively embodied the lead character not as Prospero, but the feminized Prospera — artistic director Tony Simotes has brought Dukakis back to the fold for an examination of Brecht’s moody, anti-war anthem Mother Courage and Her Children.
It’s the fifth time Dukakis has tackled the challenging title character.
“I did it all on energy. I was like a bull in a china shop,” Dukakis, seen in photos by Jeremy D. Goodwin to the left and above, says of her first time playing the role, at Boston’s Charles Playhouse in the late 1960’s. “I came on at the top of the show and sang the opening number an octave higher than I’ve ever sung it. I was like this,” she adds, shaking her hands back and forth at a rapid tempo. “The first time you do something like Mother Courage, there’s a lot you have to prove, and then there’s the unfamiliarity of it. As you do things over and over, those things drop away and that’s a relief and a release. When I first did it, I didn’t trust vulnerability at all. Now I’m trusting that much more.”
The Academy Award winner is seated casually in Rehearsal Studio 3 at S&Co.‘s Bernstein Center for the Performing Arts, often leaning forward intently, raising her voice to emphasize a point. She comes off as generally affable and charming — particularly for a great stage-and-screen artist quite used to a room quieting itself when she has something to say. She nabbed an Oscar (for supporting actress), as well as a Golden Globe, for her 1987 role in Moonstruck, but Dukakis has been a fixture in the theater firmament since her Broadway debut in 1961.
For this intimate press conference, she’s seated alongside Simotes, the director of this production, and John Douglas Thompson, one of the company’s biggest homegrown stars. (Familiar to Lenox audiences from his lead roles in Othello, Richard III, and last summer’s Satchmo at the Waldorf, this time around Thompson woos Dukakis’ character as the Cook.) Later, costume designer Arthur Oliver joins them, as does Olympia’s brother Apollo, who brought a reserved dignity to last year’s Tempest and plays the Chaplain in Mother Courage.
S&Co.‘s aesthetic places a priority on engaging audiences in a “relationship” with the actors, whether through direct address or by using the entire theater — including aisles, balcony, and anywhere else within earshot — as a playing space.
Comparing this Mother Courage to her last, at Williamstown Theatre Festival twenty years ago, Dukakis says the current approach leads to more moments of humor in a piece that can be played as severe or even dour.
“[Director] Gerry Freedman was much more of a traditionalist. Tony is something of an iconoclast,” Dukakis says, prompting laughter. “You know what’s the most fun? The audiences expect interaction. They expect it and they look forward to it and enjoy it. And the actors here are good at it… I’ve never done it the way we’re doing it here. It’s a lot of fun — the play just jumps right off the stage.”
“Fun” is not an adjective typically applied to this work, which takes deadly satirical aim at wartime profiteering in the context of the Thirty Years’ War, the 17th century conflict that embroiled central Europe. Brecht wrote the play during the mid-20th century apex of fascism; Simotes says the political messaging comes off best with a period-appropriate staging. “People have taken it and put it in burqas and different time periods to try to make a point. But I think the play makes a strong point by being in the frame of that Thirty Years’ War. It allows us to be somewhat separate from it to really see it.”
Dukakis, seen with Thompson in a photo by Enrico Spada above, says the contemporary resonance of the play is obvious.
“We happen to be the most religious western country. We’re concerned with it, controlled by it, inspired by it,” she says. “We’re in religious wars right now. That’s what’s happening. How long are these wars going to go on? When are they going to end? I’m hoping it resonates for the audience. I don’t think you have to underline it in red.”
All the collaborators present marvel at what they call a very open, exploratory approach in the rehearsal room. Dukakis says she came to the play looking for an intense experience. “The engagement of it is what I wanted. It’s a play that really shakes you to do — certainly this part.”
Mother Courage is a play of ideas and argument, with different characters offering careful explications of their worldviews. The mission, these actors say, is to preserve Brecht’s intent while still fleshing out their character’s vulnerabilities and offering something that audiences can relate to.
“With many plays it can be very different things. It’s how deep you dig into the material,” Thompson observes of his approach as an actor. “I’ve done a lot of research and read books where it says, this is what this play is all about. As an actor you can accept that, and maybe live in some sort of frame of mediocrity, or you can say this is a guideline and I’m going to try to break the rules and push the envelope in one direction or another.”
This is the first year in recent memory that the marquee production of the season at S&Co. is a non-Shakespeare play; Simotes says the idea came from Dukakis (seen with Apollo in a Kevin Sprague photo from The Tempest above) who told him she thought she had one more Mother Courage in her.
“How do you say no to that? Someone says, ‘Would you like to possibly get to the top of Mt Everest?’” Simotes muses, “you go: ‘Hell yeah.’”
“It’s a very steep mountain,” Thompson chimes in. “But it’s a rewarding one.”
Enlivened by the discussion and fully in the flow, Dukakis caps the exchange.
“What else are you going to do with your life?”
What else, indeed.
Mother Courage and her Children at Shakespeare & Company
July 26 - August 25, 2013
Tina Packer Playhouse
70 Kemble Street
Lenox, MA 01240
Tickets: (413) 637-3353