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Sunday Morning Michael Dale: Steph Del Rosso's Sharp Social Commentary, 53% Of, Takes On Added Significance After Supreme Court Rulings

Also, Timothy Haskell's Van Damme pseudo-biography and Lena Horné at The Kraine.

Opening number...

A character he created may have been born on the Fourth of July, but today is the birthday of George M. Cohan, the artist who, at the turn of the 20th Century, was the most significant force in creating American musical comedy as a new art form evolved from European operetta and mixing aspects of the immigrant cultures that were creating New York City.

In 1904, his musical Little Johnny Jones, about an American jockey accused of throwing a race in London, premiered at the Liberty Theatre on 42nd Street less than two weeks after the opening of the Times Square subway station and immediately became a top destination. The show introduced the songs "Give My Regards To Broadway" and "Yankee Doodle Dandy", the latter being an early example of "taking back the word", as it reclaimed a term British soldiers used to mock the unsophisticated colonists as a badge of honor.

Remember that SNL sketch where Tom Hanks played a MAGA hat wearing contestant on Black Jeopardy...

...pitted against two Black urbanites played by Sasheer Zamata and Leslie Jones and the unexpected message behind the jokes was that these two groups may have more in common than we think? I was reminded of that as the plot of Steph Del Rosso's sharp social commentary 53% Of unfolded. (tickets $30)

Sunday Morning Michael Dale: Steph Del Rosso's Sharp Social Commentary, 53% Of, Takes On Added Significance After Supreme Court Rulings
Grace Rex, Anna Crivelli and Cathryn Wake
(Photo: Joan Marcus)

The title refers to the 53% of white women who voted for Donald Trump in 2016, but that's just the starting point. It's Christmastime in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, 2016, and the four members of Women For Freedom And Family (Anna Crivelli, Grace Rex, Cathryn Wake and Marianna McClellan) are thrilled that the new president-elect is "someone who's gonna save all the babies and kick out all the evil criminals." But their debate over who will be granted the honor of introducing him at a local rally is interrupted by the arrival of a new member, PJ, who not only doesn't appear to be of their social and financial status, but who arrives wearing a sweatshirt bearing the Confederate flag.

Though the others try to hide their shock and disgust, when the elephant in the room is finally mentioned, PJ responds with a passionate declaration of what that flag means to her and many like her who are tired of being judged by party members who don't take the time to get to know them. ("I refuse to apologize for taking up space.")

This class separation is reinforced in the next scene, where the five women now morph into their own husbands, who meet up to spend the afternoon enjoying the telecast of Trump's inauguration, until PJ's spouse RJ points out a matter of privilege the others have over him.

When you attend Off-Broadway theatre, especially a political piece, there's a liberal default setting you assume for audience members. Watching these two scenes so shortly after the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, I sensed an uneasiness in the air that vanished when the setting turned to an exposed brick Brooklyn apartment and there was a great deal of laughter as director Tiffany Nichole Greene's excellent ensemble was now playing members of a liberal activist group, who ritualize the practice of recognizing their white guilt and celebrating the denial of privilege.

A small matter of concern is that one member has been absent from the past couple of meetings. In the next scene we see that she's KJ, the only Black character in the play, who has grown tired of the others seeking her approval for their acts of contrition and regarding her as little more than a Black person. At the performance I attended, standby Kara F. Green did a beautiful job with a monologue expressing the important details of her life that are only known by people who care enough to get to know her.

Like many political plays that I see in New York, it would be interesting to see how 53% Of would play in more conservative parts of the country. Certainly the theme that political party members don't exist in a cultural monolith is non-partisan.

I knew pretty much nothing about Jean Claude Van Damme before taking in a performance of Timothy Haskell's The Rise and Fall, Then Brief and Modest Rise Followed By A Relative Fall Of... Jean Claude Van Damme As Gleaned by a Single Reading of His Wikipedia Page Months Earlier...

...and now I'm certain I know even less. Still, I had a great time at the goofy pseudo-biographical stick puppet and action figure enhanced lecture produced by Psycho Clan that's playing at The Pit Loft through July 17th (tickets $25).

Sunday Morning Michael Dale: Steph Del Rosso's Sharp Social Commentary, 53% Of, Takes On Added Significance After Supreme Court Rulings
Joe Cordaro and John Harlacher
(Photo: Nathaniel Nowak)

Co-directed by the author and his Psycho Clan co-members Paul Smithyman and Aaron Haskell, the very funny two-person romp is narrated with tongue-in-cheek authority by John Harlacher as a kind of cross between Peter Schickele and John Houseman (Wow, I'm showing my age.), assuring us that, "absolutely no research was put into learning anything about the subject at hand. It was all gleaned from one cursory glance at his Wikipedia page, and just general knowledge of the man based on tabloid headlines."

Joe Cordaro, representing the martial artist from Brussels who became known for flashing his muscles in Hollywood action flicks, tries reclaiming the truth of his story, but this is one biography that isn't about the story. It's mostly about funny stick puppets and recreating martial arts battles with toy action figures. Oh, and there's a clip of our hero happily dancing on the beach as an extra in the movie Breakin' that is not to be missed.

After the show, my friend suggested nightcaps at The Flatiron Room on W. 26th Street...

...and while I had heard a bit about this nightspot before, I'm kicking myself for not checking it out sooner. The décor is classic swank and while the fine dining menu looks good, we were able to just sit at the bar and enjoy some live jazz for the price of our cocktails. Sorry I didn't catch the name of the terrific trio that was riffing on The Beatles and Billy Joel last Sunday, but there's a music schedule on their website showing artists playing seven nights a week, with sets from 7-10 Sunday through Wednesday and 5:30 to midnight Thursday through Saturday; great for pre- or post-theatre music.

I hope I'm not the only one who was expecting something completely different...

...when I ventured over to the Kraine this week for a performance of Come What May: an Evening with Lena Horné, which ends its run tonight as part of the 8th Annual Queerly Festival (tickets $20/$25).

Sunday Morning Michael Dale: Steph Del Rosso's Sharp Social Commentary, 53% Of, Takes On Added Significance After Supreme Court Rulings
Lena Horné
(Photo: Lucas Andahl)

Silly me for not knowing that this rambunctiously charming diva was not performing a Lena Horne tribute show, but instead was throwing a joyous self-celebration honoring the pop icons that influenced her life and career.

A Missouri native who developed her drag persona as a Brooklynite, Lena Horné, sings live to recorded tracks from the catalogues of the likes of Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse, Diana Ross and Phyllis Hyman, frequently flaunting husky and energized R&B vocals. A funny bit tells of an imagined meeting with RuPaul, set to Stephen Schwartz's Wicked anthem, The Wizard And I.

After a bit of comical lip-syncing, Horné goes into more traditional cabaret mode when joined by pianist Christopher Wilson for standards like "The Way We Were", "Touch Me In The Morning" and "Where Am I Going?"

Not what I expected, but I had a swell time.

Curtain line...

"Anything is possible through activism and empathy. Also... bourbon." - Erin Cronican

In my first Sunday Morning Michael Dale column, I wrote of meeting Erin Cronican, who created The Seeing Place Theater Company in 2009 with her eventual spouse, Brynn Asha Walker. Having Stage VI cancer wasn't going to stop her drive to create theatre, but The Seeing Place's plan to have her play the lead role in Margret Edson's 1999 Pulitzer-winner Wit, about a university professor who reflects on the metaphysical poetry of John Donne while undergoing an experimental treatment for ovarian cancer, had to be put on hold until theatres reopened. The production achieved enthusiastic acclaim when it opened on E. 4th Street in December of 2021; an achievement Erin said she regarded as her legacy.

Erin Cronican passed on this week. Deepest condolences to her loved ones. She was a shining star of New York theatre and a generously loving friend.

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