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Lindsay Teed and Anna Marie Sell as Viola and Olivia

“Be not afraid of greatness” is the advice Malvolio gets from an anonymous letter in William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.” Our officious, comedic villain hopes the greatness of his mistress Olivia will be thrust upon him, a thought that tickles him in all the wrong places. Ever ready to put a subordinate in his place or flatter his betters, when he sees the opportunity to move up the social ladder a rung or two Malvolio exults in the thought that he could be better than he is.

The idea that you can be better than you are was laughable to the play’s Elizabethan audience. You were born into your place; you stay in your place; and morality consists of being faithful to who you are. People act immorally when they put on airs, or act beneath their station. We laugh at the type of fool Malvolio represents in hopes that public scorn will teach him a lesson in humility. It’s an important lesson to learn, because those who don’t learn it turn into tyrants and / or corpses.

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The title of Thomas Bernhard’s play “Ritter, Dene, Voss” comes from the surnames of the three actors who premiered the roles in 1986: Ilse Ritter, Kirsten Dene and Gert Voss. It is worth noting as well that Ritter means “knight” and Voss is an aristocratic surname from the fourteenth cenutry. This is significant because “Ritter, Dene, Voss” is a play about the death of the Viennese ideal of urbane aristocracy and the horrible, beautiful flowers that bloomed in the rotting dung heap of post-World War I Austria.

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Let’s do the time warp again! And by “time warp” I mean warping to an alternate universe about six months from now when the Nouveau Burlesque, downtown New York’s indigenous revival of the Great 20th Century American Burlesque, opens on The Great White Way. Now, this is an alternate universe, so it looks similar, but it is not identical to our own. In this alternate universe, some greats of our contemporary scene have different names and different histories: Jo Boobs is still the boss, but the alternate Boobs is still partying like it’s 1979. The famous, gritty theater where it all goes down is either The Box or the Slipper Room crossed with the Minsky’s National Winter Garden Theater, circa 1925, and the beautiful ingénue isn’t a brainy, erudite Fordham grad, she’s an NYU doctoral student writing a thesis on alternative gender performance, circa 1995.

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What dark horror lurks beyond this vale of wrath and tears? Is it the undiscovered country, from whose bourne no traveller returns? Is darkness the mere nothing at the end of the world, as Byron imagined in his poem “Darkness”? Is it where the monsters hide in your bedroom? Or is darkness that which we carry within us, the “palpable obscure” of Hell that Satan laments in Paradise Lost:

Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell;
And, in the lowest deep, a lower deep
Still threatening to devour me opens wide,
To which the Hell I suffer seems a Heaven.

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Waiting for Lefty at ATA's Sargent Theater

You may not guess it from the picture of the handsome man above, but Lefty is a leftist, a commie, a red — and not in the Texas “Red Meat” way. You might think of this guy as a Lefty for The Great Recession — cool, hip, possibly living in a palatial squat in Buffalo, refusing to use currency or pay for food.

And yet, it was not always thus.

The enduring strength of Clifford Odets’s play Waiting for Lefty is its focus on character rather than identity. That may seem like a subtle distinction, but it’s an important one that traces the success and failure of the labor movement in the USA from Odets’s time to ours. Odets’s characters are honest, working people who strive for a measure of human dignity and are systematically deprived of it by the Bosses, the Owners, and the unsympathetic, pampered, and callous Elites. Odets builds his characters through their struggles: they are dynamic, not static. But in the intervening three quarters of a century since this play was first produced “identity” as a pillar of capitalist ideology has dominated and marginalized character so thoroughly that the didactic purpose of this play, what Brecht would have called a lehrstück, is easy to miss. Waiting for Lefty is the greatest work of American agitprop theater because it attempts to dramatize how a person learns courage in an act of character building, rather than appealing to the audience’s fear and pity.

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The Patient from "That Old Soft Shoe" at The Brick

How many comedies about torture there are in the naked city! Maybe not all of them are comedies, but it seems like our Empire City response to 24 and the Bush years has been laughter – hysterical, terrified laughter, of the mad scientist variety.

Kyle Ancowitz’s production of Matthew Freeman’s play That Old Soft Shoe at the Brick Theater in Williamsburg is a hilariously irreverent, frenetic, and absurd send up of 24 and its genre of fear mongering drama that will keep you laughing all the way to a highly classified black site in Jordan – or more probably, Florida.

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Amir John and Lakshmi fight in "Before Your Very Eyes"

“Who are you going to believe? Me or you eyes?” —Groucho Marx

I jokingly asked myself on the way to see Before Your Very Eyes, a play about 9/11 at the Flamboyan Theatre, “Is it too soon? Is nine years long enough to get a grip on the real truth of 9/11?”

I thought I was being facetious, but the question goes to the heart of what Edward Elefterion, the writer/director of Before Your Very Eyes is aiming to do with his play. The question “what happened” is a question of perspective. Each one of us who were in the city on 9/11/2001 have a personal story about that day that we have shaped and polished over the years into an appropriate three minute downer that you tell people outside the City. “I did (or didn’t) see a building fall with my naked eyes”; “I knew (or didn’t) someone who worked there.” A lot of us have stories of friends who were supposed to be near the World Trade Center towers that day and for some reason weren’t; many of us saw figures covered in concrete dust streaming across the East River bridges into Brooklyn; some of us trapped outside the city had to watch our city cope with disaster from a distance.

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Erin Markey in "Puppy Love: A Stripper's Tail"

Some girls give me money,

Some girls buy me clothes

Erin Markey’s one woman show Puppy Love: A Stripper’s Tail is a must-see tale/tail for all you ladies and gents (but mostly ladies) who work in the gray area between theater and erotic arts in New York. It’s also worth seeing if you don’t work in that lovely, glistening niche of the alternative entertainment world. But if you are a woman who has ever wondered how glitter got into that, or categorize men as “sweet hearts” and “pervs,” or looked in the mirror and said “I’d do me,” this is a show you can’t miss.

Guys on the other side of the tip rail will appreciate this play too. Strippers, erotic performers, and sex workers have earned their own technical name in the world of knuckle dragging, ham-knecked, mouth breathers: “stripper crazy.” Stripper Crazy is the kind of girl who, after three cocktails, leans over and whispers in your ear that she thinks you’re a sweet heart, and do you want to go to the bathroom for some X-rated fun? Then, three cocktails later, when you’re at the bar buying her another drink, you hear her siren giggle as one of the pervs from the table next to yours, the table of guys who earned her scorn when they leered and cat called, hoists her over his shoulder and takes her to the bathroom for a little X-rated fun.

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Jeff Sproul and James Patrick Cronin in "Poppycock"

Just what did you expect for nothing? Rubber biscuit?

A guy walks into a bar and says “ouch!” No wait. I told that wrong. A man and a woman walk into a derelict bed and breakfast carrying the woman’s catatonic sister. This is the last night the bed and breakfast will be in business because an unscrupulous Richie Rich, a real Snidely Whiplash, is about to repossess it from its humble bumbling owner. And then they say “ouch.”

Poppycock: A Modern-Day Farce at Under St. Mark’s Theater from now until April 24th is roughly an hour and a half of non-stop gags, jokes, tom-foolery, one-liners, puns, witty repartee, and monkeyshines. It’s like Monkey Business meets Fawlty Towers envisioned as a live-action Tex Avery cartoon (like Malcolm in the Middle). I laughed through the whole thing.

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What does a world without hope look like? Is it a bleak moonscape — black sky, cold sun, gray hills? Or is it the too perfect world of American suburbia, where the sun — and the smiles — shine a little too bright; where too-green, cultivated lawns lead to soothing interiors, painted in shades named “Ocean Side”, “Interactive Cream”, and “Moderate White”; where real freedom is banished to the gritty, marginal, blind spots of ubiquitous surveillance cameras?

The Realm, running from now until April 18th at The Wild Project in the East Village, is a futuristic dystopia in the tradition of American post-apocalyptic dystopias like Logan’s Run, A Boy and His Dog (remember that one? Don Johnson starred in the movie!), and, closer to our time, Urinetown. The time is the not-too-distant future. After an unnamed cataclysm, humanity has been forced underground. Natural resources are scarce — especially water. Human beings have learned how to live spare, lean lives, stripped of all superfluity — and fun. And, for that matter, freedom. Water is rationed, life is rationed, even words are rationed.

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Ars Gratia Artis

Are you the kind of person who got a bonus from Santa Blankfein, and wants to blow it on a family trip to see a revival of “West Side Story” from seventh row center? Do you like your theater to observe the Aristotelian unities of time, place, and action? Do like it when a play is “realistic” or “believable”? I bet you watch a lot of reality TV too. Yeah, that’s right. You heard me. Simple plots, syrupy sentiments, lots of slow-mo’s and major key power chords, that’s what you like, you philistine.

Now, if you prefer the nitty-gritty, avant-garde; if Zach Galifianakis and John Hodgman leave you in stiches; if you live for the excitement of theater so live you can feel the blood, sweat, and tears of the performers sprinkling your hair and getting caught in your mustache,  the FRIGID festival, on till March 7th is for you. Give thanks for New York City, where you can see theater that is truly “state of the art.”

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IT OR HER, a new play by Alena Smith being performed now at the FRIGID festival is a cross between Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” and Baron-Cohen’s “Brüno”. When that pitch line occurred to me in the darkened theater, I thought I was being pretty clever (if catty), but when I read the official blurb in the press packet I saw that the allusion was intentional. The playwright intentionally copped Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”, albeit in a cute, neo-absurdist way.

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The cast of The Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov barely fits in the Red Room on West 4th St. There are fourteen actors (14), who represent over a third of the living creatures in the tiny space on top of KGB bar. The play is also crammed full of personalities: the sisters of the title, their brother, his wife, the alcoholic doctor, the Baron, his ill-mannered friend, the school teacher, two soldiers, the elderly female servant, the elderly male servant, and the artilery commander. It’s a lot of emotion to pack into a space the size of a one bedroom apartment.

Like a silvery, slippery sardine is kind of how you feel when you sit down, elbow to elbow with other viewers, and with your knees poking into the actors. (The seats are set in the round, so to speak, on the perimeter of the play space that stretches the length of the floor.) This is not in-your-face, interactive theater like De La Guarda, where the performers dance with the audience during the performance, but I get the feeling that the large company, the director Jess Chayes, and the set designer Nicolas Benacerraf were making a virtue of necessity when they wrapped the audience around the players in an almost uncomfortable embrace.

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Tanya O'Debra in Radio Star

Everything old is new again! At least that’s how it feels these days. Five long years ago the vogue in vintage was vintage 70s — 1870s that is. Remember when conservatives wanted to repeal income tax and Social Security? It was the new Gilded Age.

But ah, how quickly the worm turns! Now vintage styles in dress and drink reflect the more sober times of the Great Depression and the privation of WWII. Only we call it the Great Recession, and our great global war is being fought by guys with explosive powder in their banana hammocks.

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‘Tis the season of holiday parties, corporate and otherwise. On the longest night of the year my companion and I dropped in on the SPI Marketing holiday party at the Rootstein Mannequin Showroom on West 19th Street and 7th Ave in Chelsea.

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Cate Blanchett as Blanche Dubois

It seemed appropriate to be waiting on two self-described Southern belles to get into Streetcar at BAM last week. Nothing says “Southern” like being late to your own party. We were four, and at least three of us hail from south of the Mason-Dixon line, or as another of my Southern friends likes to call it the “Manson-Nixon” line. Ah the South! Home of pecan pie, obsessions with purity (mostly sexual), vowels longer than a summer sunset, religious revivals held in circus tents, Wal-Mart superstores, and — these days especially — widespread dependence on food stamps.

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The Minsky Sisters ~ photo by Erin Patrice O'Brien

The Minsky Sisters have been on our radar for some time, so we asked them to tell us about themselves.

CC: We’re here with Jen and Kristen, the Minsky Sisters! Hello!

Jen: Hello!

Kristen: Hello!

CC: When did you guys get your act together, so to speak?

Jen: We’ve been performing together for several years but Minsky sisters became a thing July 2008. Our friend Shien Lee, the producer of Dances of Vice, asked us if we would do a tap number. Both of us have been dancing for most of our lives. And we didn’t have a name, we were just ourselves. We didn’t have an identity, and we performed just thinking we were gonna do just one dance and that was going to be it. But people really liked us and we started getting asked to perform at other venues, not just Dances of Vice, and we thought, OK, I guess we’re a thing now — an act. So we got a name.

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November 19, 2009

Oh the villainies of Facebook! It seems that when word gets out that you write for a blog as prestigious as Cultural Capitol you start getting invited to all kinds of parties. And so it was I was invited to the NCYFF film industry mixer at GStaad last night.

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This Friday, November 6th, check out the glorious return of This Is Burlesque with The Pontani Sisters and Murray Hill!

Cultural Capitol talked to Angie Pontani about the new space and the new show. “The new space is fantastic,” she told us. The stage is upstairs at Sweet Carolines on West 45th between 8th and 9th Avenues. “It has a much larger stage and better sight lines for the audience, yet it maintains the intimate style of Corio.  We are also pretty excited to be in Times Square!”

If you loved the extended Pontani burlesque famiglia you won’t be disappointed with the new lineup. Murray Hill, The Pontani Sisters (Angie, Helen, and Peekaboo Pointe) with guests-in-residence Melody Sweets and Little Brooklyn are still the hardest working family in showbiz.

I asked if there were any surprises in store for the upcoming run. “Yes,” Angie said, there will be “new numbers for sure and bigger and better then ever.  With such a large stage we are going to be able to use more props and perform larger group numbers.  The Gin Bath act has a new home — I am so excited to do that act every weekend!”

Friday will be an extra special evening because it is also Angie’s birthday! (Happy birthday!)

Get your tickets now!

This Is Burlesque

Every Friday and Saturday night at 9:30

Sweet Carolines, 322 West 45th Street

For advance tickets call 212-977-3884

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A tap dancing mermaid at the Clinton Hill Carnival of Carnage

Happy Halloween! Tonight the good people at 313 Clinton Avenue put on their yearly Halloween show, and it may have been their best ever! The theme this year was “Carnival of Carnage.” As always the production value was top notch. The folks working on the show include some past and present theater folk from the Great White Way who know their way around sound and light equipment. They also know how to edit your favorite Disney songs to give them Brooklyn specific lyrics over the familiar music. Most of the ghouls and monsters in this year’s show crawled out of the ooze of the Gowanus canal, including the mermaid in the picture above, tapping her way into the hearts of the many children in the audience who were enchanted by the spectacle. (It seemed like half the audience was under three years old.)

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diane

Diane Naegel

We here at CC were intrigued by the Jazz Aged themed parties called “Wit’s End“, so we decided to talk to their hostess to find out more.

CC: Hi Diane! I guess my first question is, where are you from, if not from NYC? Why did you move here, what do you do for work, if that isn’t planning these events? What got you into this style of dress / music / literature? Who is your favorite artist in those genres / periods? What are your other interests? For example, are you into Steam Punk, Victorian Gothic, or 40s swing?; alternatively, do you like macs and cheese, Big Macs, macrobiotic vegan fare? Macrame, textiles, rough spun yarn or spandex? Are you also active in theater or music?

Diane N: I’m actually from the Midwest- Cincinnati, Ohio! I went to fashion school there, and the University of Cincinnati has a cooperative education program where you take six paid internships in your field while you’re in school- so I got to live here in NYC, Seattle, and LA while I was getting my degree…so if you look at it that way, I’ve lived here off and on since 2000- but permanently for the last 4+ years. I’m an accessory designer by day- I actually do all of the kids accessories for OshKosh B’gosh!

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Trow paper towls

If this were in China one might call it “Chinglish.” But this sign is in a bathroom in Midtown Manhattan, in an upscale Indian deli. Those of us who claim English heritage can’t help but take a little pride in the fact that our oppressive, imperialist forebears spread our language and culture so far and wide that we don’t have to learn another language. English is the lingua franca of the world. Even though there are more than 1,500 languages spoken in India, I can travel the whole of the subcontinent without knowing a word of any of them. (Thank you T. B. Macaulay!) Sure, that means I can be a bit condescending and simultaneously ignorant, but what do you want? An ethno-linguistic anthropologist?

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Columbia tent city

These tents were set up on Columbia’s campus as extra housing for incoming students. They also look a bit like a Hooverville, though probably not intentionally. The New York Times is reporting today that the teenage jobless rate is the highest it has been since they started keeping records in the 40s, three times the unemployment rate of the rest of the country. So to you 18-year-olds whose parents can afford it, back to school!

band on the run

These guys were playing in Washington Square Park recently. I didn’t catch their name. They looked and sounded like the early Beatles.

Wits End Jambon 021

Summer’s almost gone — and where did it go? Seems like it didn’t even arrive until July, and starting next week it’s back-to-school, back-from-the-Hamptons, and back to the daily grind.

But let’s not dwell on the past. September marks the beginning of Autumn in New York, and Autumn in New York is always a magical time. When the air turns crisp, the leaves turn red and gold, and Bryant Park turns into a field of white tents housing an army of long, leggy ladies, parties, drinks and fashion flow together from the pent up stores of summer, and the great river of life rolls mightily on.

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Speakeasy 08 26 09 01

"Pssst -- Walt sent me."

Last Wednesday was the last Speakeasy at the Museum of the City of New York. If you missed it, too bad. You’ll just have to wait for next year.

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Swamp Donkey

I think “Swamp Donkey” says it all.

A perfect space for TED

A perfect space for TED

On the last Thursday of every month a group of young professionals get together to screen TED talks and share ideas. Last week I was informally invited via Facebook by Ryan Hagen, a founding member of the group (and a Facebook friend from the NYU days). The other founder, Kyle Jaster provided the space (pictured above) in the TriBeCa offices of Rayogram, Mr. Jaster’s design and consulting business.

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gun virgins

Last night the lovely Ms. Cybil Lake threw a fundraiser to raise funds for the production of her movie “The Gun Virgins” at Gallery Bar. She screened a video from her reality show “The Cybil Lake Show” and served free drinks courtesy of Krol vodka and Caballo Negro wine.

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