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Return of the Gargoyle Woman

Everett Quinton & Jason Cruz

Everett Quinton & Jason Cruz

Everett Quinton finally plays another shady lady

Although the Peccadillo Theater Company’s new comedy Drop Dead Perfect sends up a wide range of American cultural touchstones—from The Glass Menagerie to I Love Lucy to What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?—its greatest inspiration is arguably the high-camp, cross-dressing work of Charles Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatrical Company. As with Ludlam classics like The Mystery of Irma Vep, Drop Dead Perfect is a smorgasbord of high- and lowbrow references, and it stars a leading man decked out in glorious drag.

In this case, the gender-bending star is Everett Quinton, Ludlam’s longtime artistic and romantic partner and a Ridiculous fixture during the company’s heyday in the 70s and 80s. When Quinton enters in a fitted 50s gown, meticulously coiffed auburn wig, and jungle red nails, he seems absolutely in his element. It’s as though the part of Idris Seabright—an overbearing matriarch who’s keeping a major secret from her beautiful ward, her long-lost Latin nephew, and her pill-pushing lawyer—has been written just for him.

And perhaps it has been, though the credited playwright, Erasmus Fenn, isn’t saying. That’s mostly because he doesn’t exist. “If I may be slightly coy about it, I’ll say he speaks only to me,” says director Joe Brancato, the founder and artistic director of upstate New York’s Penguin Rep, where Drop Dead Perfect had its world premiere last summer. (It’s currently playing at the Theatre at St. Clements.) “He was born and raised in the Bronx, just as I was, but he’s agoraphobic. He doesn’t want to besmirch his life with the business of the theatre like doing press; he’s a child at heart.”

Brancato, however, gleefully reminisces about going to see Ridiculous shows. “The abandon was amazing,” he says. “They were just breaking all rules and at the same time saluting everything that was great on film and on stage, and that always stayed with me. I remember Everett so clearly, which is why I asked him to do this play.”

Though Quinton forged his career playing what Brancato calls “gargoyle women,” he hasn’t trod the boards as a broad since 2010′s Devil Boys From Beyond. “I had been praying for a role that was as meaty as things I had done in the past,” Quinton says. “I cut my teeth on big juicy parts like Idris, and I wonder if that gets in my way at auditions. The whole ‘tone it down’ thing is my dilemma. I object to terms like ‘over-the-top.’ To me it’s just high comedy. It’s like the Restoration comedy of our time, all these fabulous extreme characters.” [Read more →]

July 22, 2014   No Comments

Fanmail: “Violet” Star Annie Golden is a Punk Rock Queen

Sutton Foster & Annie Golden in Violet

Sutton Foster & Annie Golden in Violet

Welcome to Fanmail, our tributes to theatre artists we admire

I heard Annie Golden’s voice before I ever saw her. Her song “Hang Up the Phone”—a bizarrely peppy ode to romantic jealousy—made quite an impression on me as an adolescent when I heard it in John Hughes’ movie Sixteen Candles. I played it over and over and over again (on LP!), and I fell for her clear, high-pitched voice, which sounded strong but also throbbed with emotion and insecurity.

Little did I know Golden’s career would mirror my own life. We both started out as punk rock chicks, though I just went to CBGBs in the ‘80s while she headlined there as the lead singer of the band The Shirts a decade earlier. The theatre, though, was always my real obsession—as a teen, I played my Sondheim records in secret so that none of my “cool” friends would know. And that’s how I rediscovered Golden: She sang another twisted love song, “Unworthy of Your Love,” as Charles Manson acolyte Squeaky Fromme on the cast recording of the original production of Assassins.

After that, my one-sided love affair with Golden truly blossomed. As a young NYC theatre journalist, I saw her in many shows in the ‘90s and the ‘00s: Playing a hilarious dud of a blind date in On the Town, the straight-talking working-class wife of an aspiring male stripper in The Full Monty, and a variety of roles in an early workshop of Broadway Musicals of 1968 at La MaMa. That last one—a compilation of songs and scenes from mostly forgotten old-fashioned shows that happened to be on Broadway in the same year the game-changing Hair opened—was particularly ironic for Golden, since she made both her Main Stem and movie debuts in incarnations of the American Tribal Love Rock Musical. [Read more →]

July 17, 2014   No Comments

The Unknown Hero of the Comic Book Universe

Steven Rattazzi as Jack Kirby

Steven Rattazzi as Jack Kirby

King Kirby celebrates a forgotten legend

Why do some artists become household names while others toil away in obscurity? That question’s at the heart of King Kirby, a bio-play by husband-and-wife writers Fred Van Lente and Crystal Skillman that dramatizes the life and career of prolific comic book illustrator Jack Kirby.

If you’re furrowing your brow trying to place the name, don’t feel ignorant. While his frequent collaborator, Marvel writer-editor Stan Lee, became the face of the comic book industry and his own sellable brand, Kirby fought in vain for recognition (and adequate remuneration) despite co-creating characters like the Hulk,  Iron Man, several X-Men, and (with his previous collaborator Joe Simon) Captain America.

The origin story of King Kirby, which is currently enjoying its world premiere at The Brick’s Comic Book Theater Festival Issue #2, dates back three decades, when Van Lente was a comics-loving teen. “I grew up reading a lot of the ’60s Marvel stuff that Kirby did,” he says. “Since every Marvel Comic said ‘Stan Lee Presents,’ I assumed he basically did everything. But in the ’80s there was a big controversy about Kirby wanting his original artwork back. That was my come to Jesus moment, a deflowering of innocence if you will. I realized that there was more to the story, and I became obsessed with it. I wanted to try to get people not into comics to learn about it.”

To that end, Van Lente, who himself has written celebrated comics like Cowboys & Aliens, started a book about Kirby in 2000. A year later, he tried transforming the material into his first play. “I was still struggling career-wise, figuring out what I wanted to do,” he says. “That original draft was much more playful in terms of history and had a comic book kind of reality. We did a very successful reading… and then I got distracted.”

It wasn’t until a decade later, when The Brick mounted its first Comic Book Theater Festival in 2011, that Van Lente decided to pick his show up again at the behest of his playwright wife Skillman, a longtime darling of NYC’s indie theatre scene (Geek, Wild, Cut). “Kirby’s struggle was personally very moving to me,” she says. “In any art form, for every big name there are 10 people that stand behind it. We all influence each other. How does it feel for one creator’s name to be there while another’s is not? It’s a very emotionally powerful issue.” [Read more →]

June 24, 2014   No Comments

He’s Underwater, and We Know What He’s Thinking

Spencer Barros

Spencer Barros

In Deepest Man, cutting-edge technology tells a heartbreaking story

No, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. But you may find that hard to believe while watching Deepest Man, playwright James Scruggs’ avant-garde meditation on loss, healing, and above all, water.

Now at 3-Legged Dog’s 3LD Art & Technology Center, the trippy hour-long show features shadows walking independently, bodies flailing in midair, and other impossible-to-believe visuals. All of these haunting special effects come courtesy of the Musion Eyeliner, a high-definition video hologram projection system that conjures 3D images live on stage. But even though the technology seems cutting-edge, its roots date back to the 19th century.

“It’s based on an old trick called Pepper’s Ghost that was used at Victorian carnivals and in Coney Island funhouses,” explains Scruggs, who also has a background in film and serves as 3-Legged Dog’s program director. “If you take a pane of glass, place it at a 45-degree angle and light it correctly, it can catch a ghostly reflection that seems to float. Instead of glass, the Eyeliner is a specially designed Mylar surface, but it delivers the same magical effect.”

A veteran of the downtown multimedia theatre scene, Scruggs initially used his experiences as a September 11 survivor as the jumping-off point for early drafts of Deepest Man, which focuses on a delusional doctor (Spencer Barros) whose wife drowned in an unnamed, Katrina-like disaster.

“I was the director of technical services for Windows on the World and happened to be on vacation on 9/11,” Scruggs explains. “And for the past few years I’ve been working here at 3-Legged Dog just a few blocks from where the Twin Towers stood. At first I was interested in exploring the idea of disaster capitalists, who profit off of tragedies, versus survivors, who just want to get back what they lost. But it turned into a piece about water and diving deep inside yourself and how people deal with extreme emotions like grief.” [Read more →]

June 2, 2014   No Comments

The Puppetry of Grief

Carlo Andinolfi

Carlo Andinolfi

In Extraordinary Extremities, a puppeteer explores the power of loss

Last year, when the NYC- based Concrete Temple Theatre mounted a moody solo puppet show called Geppetto at HERE Arts Center, co-artistic director Carlo Adinolfi was disappointed that audiences assumed it was just for kids.

While children certainly love his inventive hand-crafted puppets—especially a not-so-fearsome sea monster sock puppet with light-up eyes—the production, now called Extraordinary Extremities, explores very adult emotions. It tells the story story of a middle-aged puppeteer (Adinolfi) whose wife and artistic partner has recently died. As he works through his grief and their repertoire, he tries to figure out how to go on alone with a broken heart and a lead puppet with severed legs. Pinocchio it’s not. Instead it’s a symbol-filled, grown-up fairy tale about love, loss, and perseverance.

The hour-long piece, which runs at Soho Playhouse through May 31, was initially inspired by a story Adinolfi heard on NPR about Hugh Herr, a rock climber and mechanical engineer who designed special prosthetics after his legs were amputated below the knee. “When he said, ‘I feel fortunate that I can always look forward to having better and better feet,’ I felt there were the beginnings of a show in that sentence,” Adinolfi says.

In 2012, he and his co-artistic director Renee Philippi began developing the piece at the Puppet Lab at St. Ann’s Warehouse, which along with HERE’s Dream Music Puppetry Program is responsible for incubating many mature puppet works in the city. By 2013, the duo was touring their show internationally, and that’s when Adinolfi was reminded that in other countries, there’s not such a great divide between “children’s theatre” and “grown-up theatre.”

“I grew up in London where theatre was theatre; there weren’t shows for children and shows for adults,” Adinolfi says. “When we did Extraordinary Extremities in Italy, audiences didn’t make that distinction. Our crowds were totally mixed. We had families and teens and adults without kids. But here in the U.S., audiences immediately think that puppetry is only for children. This is a show that just happens to have puppets as one element. Not that kids won’t enjoy it—I actually think parents underestimate children’s ability to process adult themes like aging and death. But it’s not specifically aimed at family audiences.” [Read more →]

May 19, 2014   No Comments