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Sunday Morning Michael Dale: All Singing! All Dancing! All Legal! Cannabis! A Viper Vaudeville Opens at La MaMa

Plus, Elevator Repair Service says Bye, Bye, Birdie to a Chekhov classic in Seagull.

This week...

The Great Lesbian Love of Eve Adams at Irondale. Closes today. $30, with $15 tickets for students, seniors and working artists.

Cannabis! A Viper Vaudeville at La MaMa. Through January 31st. $35

Seagull, presented by Elevator Repair Service at NYU Skirball. Through January 31st. $60

Opening number...

Despite the double-downing efforts of understudies, standby and swings, COVID outbreaks are still causing the occasional canceling of Broadway performances. While this can be a headache for producers and a disappointment for ticket-holders, in the course of a hit show's run it seems a manageable inconvenience.

But even a short COVID hiatus can be disastrous for Off-Off-Broadway and Indie productions, with their typically brief runs and inability to budget for understudies. This week I was looking forward to catching Thursday night's opening performance of Paige Esterly's The Great Lesbian Love of Eve Adams; the second mainstage entry in Irondale's On Women Festival. But a Wednesday morning email advised me that two company members had tested positive, so the entire 4-performance run had to be canceled except for today's 5pm show.

Sound like a great subject for a play. Eve Adams came to New York from Poland in 1912 as Eva Kotchever, but changed it to a Biblical reference as her fame grew as a publisher, gay activist and proprietor of the 129 MacDougal Street lesbian gathering spot Eve's Hangout, known for its sign advising, "Men are admitted, but not welcome."

I'll be there tonight at 5:00 and hope you will be, too. General admission tickets are $30, with $15 tickets for students, seniors and working artists.

As someone who vividly recalls the big stink North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms was raising in the late '80s over government support of art like the homoerotic photography of Robert Mapplethorpe and the chocolate-covered activism of Karen Finley...

...it gave me chuckle to read in the show's program notes that Cannabis! A Viper Vaudeville, an unabashedly joyous celebration of marijuana use, both medicinal and recreational, was "made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature."

A collaboration of two of Off-Off-Broadway's favorite historically subversive companies, the HERE production presented at La Mama (tickets $35) is an entrancingly fun and educational two-hour festival of song, dance and spoken word, beginning as a relaxing communal experience and evolving into a call for activism.

Sunday Morning Michael Dale:  All Singing! All Dancing! All Legal!  Cannabis! A Viper Vaudeville Opens at La MaMa
Grace Galu and Company
(Photo: Maria Baranova)

"Tonight is for anyone who carries a felony on their back for smoking, growing or distributing a flower," says bookwriter/lyricist Baba Israel, who co-directs with dramaturge Talvin Wilk and merrily emcees the evening. Music director Grace Galu - who thrills onstage with her vibrant, passionate vocals - composed the score with a mixture of blues, soul, jazz and hip-hop played by the fusion band Soul Inscribed.

The historical tidbits we learn include how marijuana was first brought to this continent by enslaved Africans hiding it in their hair, and how the song "La Cucaracha" was originally a protest anthem sung by Pancho Villa's troops stating that they wouldn't fight without their rations of weed.

But beginning in the 20th Century, laws against marijuana possession help local governments control minority communities and protect the income of the pharmaceutical industry. One especially touching segment tells how activists defied laws to supply cannabis to people suffering from AIDS. We also see heartwarming film footage of Israel's mother Pamela Mayo, a member of the radical Living Theater, whose marijuana use lessens her suffering from dementia.

They're followed by Twice Light's exquisite dramatic dance depicting a war veteran calming his PTSD with marijuana, which leads into Galu, as the veteran's mother, singing a gut-wrenching ballad telling how he's now in prison for his self-medication.

If Facebook required me to post my relationship status with the theatre productions of Elevator Repair Service, I'd have to stop the drop-down list at "It's complicated"...

Not that I lack any admiration for the off-beat ensemble, which has been having their way with published texts since 1991. I was absolutely fascinated with Gatz, their word-for-word performance of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, and, as a self-identifying First Amendment junkie, had a great time at Arguendo, which got its text verbatim from a United States Supreme Court case regarding whether or not Indiana strippers should be forced to wear g-strings and pasties, rather than dance completely nude.

Their Measure For Measure? Too much concept over content for me. And after re-reading my review twice, I still can't figure out what I thought of their take on The Sound And The Fury.

Sunday Morning Michael Dale:  All Singing! All Dancing! All Legal!  Cannabis! A Viper Vaudeville Opens at La MaMa
Seagull Company (Photo: Ian Douglas)

I don't think it's disrespectful to advice anyone buying tickets for Artistic Director John Collins' take on Anton Chekhov's The Seagull at NYU Skirball (titled Seagull) that they won't exactly be seeing the late 19th Century classic. That gets pretty clear about 7 pages into actor Pete Simpson's pre-show speech, which not only includes questionably accurate architectural and geographic information about the theatre but also explains the safety flag system audience members can use if they feel triggered.

Of course, if you're familiar with the original, you know that a major issue is the conflict between a young aspiring playwright, Konstantin, who wants to write important, modern works, and his mother, an actress who became famous doing middlebrow commercial fare. And I think about three minutes into the moment late in the second act of the three-hour long production, where the actors stand motionless and silent for an interminable amount of time, was when it struck me that perhaps what we were watching is Konstantin's take on Chekhov's play.

There were all the signs of young aspiring playwright trying to write an important, modern work. Actors in contemporary rehearsal clothes sitting in folding chairs passing a hand-help microphone to whoever's speaking next. A scene where actors comment on a scene that other actors are playing. A reference to a famous line that was cut. And, of course, the obligatory interpretive dance. (see photo above)

One thing about Elevator Repair Service, though. Even when I can't fathom whatever it is they're doing, they do it with full commitment. Heck, I'll see whatever they're doing. And I noticed a lot of young faces in the audience. If some of them left the theatre feeling inspired by a fresh, inventive staging blowing the dust off a stodgy classic, well, that's more important than my leaving with a headache.

Curtain Line...

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