BWW Review: POETRY/CABARET Delivers at The Green Room 42
Poetry is a respected art form, and one which many people love, whether they are reading it or listening to it be performed; but poetry is not exactly an art form that one expects to find in a nightclub, although it has happened from time to time. Poetry reading is usually an entertainment limited to coffee shops, libraries and book store corners. However, a quick search on the definition of the word cabaret is "entertainment held in a nightclub or a restaurant, while the guests eat or drink" - and while most of the nightclub going community is in their chosen watering hole to hear something musical, there is no reason why the lovers of poetry should not be afforded the same opportunities to have a good meal and a Sidecar while listening to something a little different than another evening of Sondheim.
Thomas March has created Poetry/Cabaret, a seasonal series that plays Midtown Manhattan's The Green Room 42 since the summer of 2018 when March opted for something more festive than a traditional book launch to celebrate the release of his volume of poetry "Aftermath". The party he created was a variety show featuring works of poetry along with musical performances and stand up comedy. Noting the profound effect that his personal variety creation had on his party guests, March approached The Green Room 42 about creating the evening Poetry/Cabaret as a series that would occur four times a year, with the hope that it would build strong enough legs to be presented bi-monthly, or even monthly.
If the crowd that attended Poetry/Cabaret on September 7th is any indication of the interest in this kind of an evening, then his wish may not be far from coming true.
Each evening of Poetry/Cabaret has a theme and the most recent performance was called "Reclaimed". Each artist appearing was asked to share their artistry under that heading and, as creator and host of the show, Mr. March took to the stage first, with a confident, slow walk from his table to the stage, underscored by Elton John's "The Bitch Is Back", giving newcomers to the night a clear picture of the man opening the show. March has a lot of personality and a lot of opinions. Charming, to say the least, he is unapologetic with his rhetoric, speaking humorously on topics as wide-ranging as Karl Lager and The Boy Scouts of America. Keeping the audience engrossed with his stylish verbiage, he brought out a talent not listed in his bio ("poet, performer, and essayist"): storytelling. Mr. March's minutes on the stage were not spent reciting one of his poems, neither were they spent doing stand-up comedy (though he is incredibly funny) - his craft this evening was that of a storyteller, made even more delicious by the presence of chapters. The saga of his experiences as a teenage boy scout was broken into two parts, one at the top of the show, and one half-way into the show; and, like any good raconteur, comic or writer, he went places some in the audience might find uncomfortable, making the story even better. It would not surprise this writer if Thomas March ended up on stage at The Moth someday. He is a gifted guy, an affable host, and quite a snappy dresser, in his head to toe Lagerfeld ensemble, all the elements needed for the emcee of a variety show with some real variety.
Throughout the thoroughly enjoyable evening, the audience was treated to two musical performances, two poets and two stand-up comedians, each artist vastly different than their colleague, making the night a kind of sampler platter of talents.
Mark Oleszko/Lyra Vega and Molly Pope were a delightful musical pairing for the show, he being a non-binary person who is "reclaiming my gender expression", and she being the true heir to the Ethel Merman belt throne. The gorgeous and entertaining Lyra Vega shared some of herself with us, speaking eloquently of reclaiming our world BY VOTING before sitting at the piano to expertly play and lushly sing Stephen Schwartz's musical masterpiece "Colors of the Wind". Ms. Pope reclaimed her feminine fearlessness with a childhood story about defending her best friend from a bully with her Care Bears lunchbox before launching into the song "Polly Mope" with a voice that defies description. So impressed was I by Ms. Pope that I immediately reached out to the club where she is performing this week for a reviewer's ticket, sadly to hear that the show was sold out with a waiting list, which sucks for me but not for Molly Pope. But, kids, the next time she sets foot on a stage, this reviewer will be there, and no mistake.
For the stand-up comedy entries of the show, March invited James Tison and Shalewa Sharpe to the stage. In the first half, Mx. Tison discussed reclaiming their gender identity in a no-holds-barred discussion that included lots of slow-burn laughs - but Tison was willing to wait because Tison has something real to say, refusing to either pander or govern their tongue. It was a blisteringly funny performance that left some of the audience uncomfortable, which is the best kind of performance a stand-up comic can give. The second half of the show brought up the incomparable Ms. Sharpe, who gained a massive number of new fans that night. People surely ran home to their Youtube channels to look up every bit of film of her performing because her chat with us about the pratfalls of middle age was the kind of comedy the gave rise to cliches like "laid them in the aisles", "face hurt from laughing" and "laugh till I cried", all of which were authentically true in real-time at The Green Room 42.
The poetry portions of the evening were filled with humanity and artistry enough to convert even the most poetry-challenged viewer, like myself. With little background or understanding in the art of poetry, my only choice was to sit back and listen to the journies Darrel Alejandro Holnes chose to take me on - and each of his four poems did just that, taking me on visual, visceral expeditions in my heart (mostly), and in my head, for Holnes' poems had a social consciousness to them, speaking about the process of coming out, and the experience of "Doing drag for a man who wants a woman". It is such a treat to hear a poet deliver to your ears their own work, for reading it to yourself may cost you some of their intention. Holnes' presence on this night was enough to send this writer into the poetry section of a local Barnes and Nobel to better educate him on the art form.
The second poetry entry was special in a different way than Mr. Holne's because the poet being showcased was not there to read their works. Performing the works of Matthew Mendoza, Kyle Dacuyan (a poet himself, and Executive Director of The Poetry Project) introduced the audience to Break Out: A Movement to (re)integrate incarcerated writers into literary community. There are artists behind bars and their work is being unread. This wonderful program takes the artwork of these writers and shares them with the world. Mr. Dacuyan gave out with precise and mellifluous performances of four of Matthe Mendoza's poems to the quiet and attentive crowd that was, clearly, moved by the experience and the sudden awareness of an organization as valuable as Break Out: A Movement.
My decision to see and review Poetry/Cabaret was based on one thing and one thing only: a desire to see and write about every kind of act that is appearing in New York nightclubs. As stated earlier, I am not a poetry person - but I bet a lot of people who have been to previous presentations of Poetry/Cabaret went to hear their favorite comic, or to support a singer they know and left with a greater understanding and interest in poetry. I'm sure that there were people in the audience on September 7th who never heard someone talk openly about being non-binary, or about having HIV, or about whether or not a bear sh*ts in the woods (the answer would have surprised you). The point is that, when taking a chance by skipping a group show of Cole Porter songs you already know in favor of a cabaret that has the word "poetry" in its' title, a person might, happily, expand their mind and find something new to like.
Poetry/Cabaret has an installment in December, date TBD, at The Green Room 42. For tickets visit The Green Room 42 Website
To learn more about Breakout: A Movement visit their Website
Mark Oleszko/Lyra Vega
Photos by Stephen Mosher