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BWW Review: JOE GULLA Spins Delectable Yarns in THE BRONX QUEEN at 54 Below

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Joe Gulla Creates Magic With Words

BWW Review: JOE GULLA Spins Delectable Yarns in THE BRONX QUEEN at 54 Below

If Mark Twain had lived not on the Mississippi River, but rather on the Spuyten Duyvil, there's no doubt his stories would sound a lot like those of Joe Gulla. Their stories share a lot of common themes. Boats play an important part, as do colorful and eccentric characters and a persistent theme is always about finding an ally in an unexpected friend. Gulla spins the kinds of yarns that are Dickensian in their scope, where all the disparate threads converge in the final moments to cathartic effect.

Joe Gulla is a monologist in the tradition of Spaulding Gray or Whoopi Goldberg or John Leguizamo. His style is simple. He sits at a desk (in this case a desk made of two music stands) and just reads. But it is story theatre of the highest order. His show THE BRONX QUEEN which opened last night at 54 Below, is about the traumatic, and often hysterical, experiences he had growing up gay in the Bronx. It is peopled with characters from his Italian family and their Puerto Rican friends. The Bronx Queen, by the way, is a fishing trawler that figures in many of the scenes. The story follows the ill-fated vessel from birth to death in a tragic accident and to eventual rescue. In short, it's a metaphor for the life of most gay kids who deal with families who love them but don't quite understand them, and about the peace and love they eventually find.

Joe Gulla starred for several years in the interactive play Tony and Tina's Wedding, as well as the New York production of the long-running hit My Big Gay Italian Wedding. He was featured in the cast of NBC's LOST, one of television's first adventure reality series. THE BRONX QUEEN is the first in a trilogy of autobiographical plays that have won multiple awards. In 2012 The Advocate named Gulla one of its "Anti-Bullying heroes."

THE BRONX QUEEN has many amazing episodes. My favorite was a story about young Joe and his friend Eva, who take revenge on a neighborhood woman by creating a graffiti mural in chalk that says STUPID FAY on the side of the bathroom in the local park. They regret their prank as it doesn't rain for 22 days and the artwork becomes a topic of local curiosity. It is a wry story that in some roundabout twists leads to a chance meeting with that greatest of graffiti artists, Jean-Michel Basquiat. I was also beside myself with laughter during the stories about Gulla's grandmother, Nanny, who was so devoted to a particular movie theatre, she even continued to go there after they converted it to a porn theatre. She was that dedicated. There's also a story about a mortifying moment aboard The Bronx Queen with his grandfather that is too good to give away. And those are only three of the dozens of stories that make THE BRONX QUEEN such a charming, outrageous, touching, gratifying evening. Joe Gulla is a master storyteller.

He was joined by his friends Susan Campanero and Jerry Diefenbach who opened the evening with a searingly campy disco medley. They returned at the end to serenade us with "The Way We Were" in honor of Nanny's birthday, who is a big Barbra Streisand fan. It was just the right quirky ending to cap off an evening of slightly off-center stories. I now want nothing more than to hear all Joe Gulla's tales.BWW Review: JOE GULLA Spins Delectable Yarns in THE BRONX QUEEN at 54 Below

For more about Joe Gulla, visit him at Joegulla.com or follow him @joegulla on Instagram or @JoeGulla on Twitter. For more great acts at 54 Below, go to 54below.com.


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