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Interview: Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver on Unexploded Ordnances (UXO)

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Interview: Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver on Unexploded Ordnances (UXO)
Interview: Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver on Unexploded Ordnances (UXO)

Since 1980, performance troupe Split Britches has been gifting the world with its unique brand of feminist political theater. Today, Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver—original co-founder Deb Margolin is no longer with the group—are still devoted to their queer-eyed vision: a mix of vaudeville comedy, music, poetry, and pop-culture appropriations that draws incessantly from their personal lives and politics. Their latest work, Unexploded Ordnances (UXO), plays through January 20 at La Mama’s Ellen Stewart Theatre, ahead of a forthcoming tour to England, Ireland, and Wales. I recently sat down with Shaw and Weaver to discuss the production and why it remains so important for them to keep the spirit of the Split Britches alive.

Interview: Mink Stole Talks The Mutilated, John Waters, & More

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Interview: Mink Stole Talks The Mutilated, John Waters, & More
Interview: Mink Stole Talks The Mutilated, John Waters, & More

Mink Stole has a devoted cult following that dates back to the 1970s, when she became an outrageously wacky fixture in the trash comedies of John Waters. The actress and singer is currently appearing off-Broadway in a rare production of Tennessee Williams’s affecting tragicomedy The Mutilated, directed by Cosmin Chivu and co-starring downtown performance artist Penny Arcade. Stole plays a wealthy woman who lives a lonely and secretive life in a run-down hotel in New Orleans’s French Quarter.

What is your take on The Mutilated, which opens with the line: “I think the strange, the crazed, the queer, will have their holiday this year”?

Tennessee Williams often dealt with the disenfranchised, with the odd ball, and the person who was trying and failing to connect with other people. And he dealt very well with women in this position. What I think the play is about for my character, Trinket, is the fact that when the play had its very short-lived run in 1966, breast cancer was something that we didn’t talk about. Mastectomies were a shame. Any loss of femininity was considered almost the woman’s fault and it was unseemly to discuss it. Trinket is dealing with this sense of shame of the actual loss of a breast. And for years she has been willing to support Celeste—the Penny Arcade character—just in order to keep her mouth shut and to also have somebody to share the secret with her, because it was a horrible burden to carry. Celeste has the secret to hold over Trinket, but Trinket has her wealth to hold over Celeste. So there’s a conflict between these two women. They are…the term now is “frenemies.” They need each other, depend on each other, and at some basic core level they love each other, but they resent each other at the same time. The fact that this play takes place on Christmas Eve adds a religious context—specifically Catholic, which is suitable for New Orleans. Whether or not the two women can stay friends or not is very open for interpretation, I think. And if we do our job right, we will make the audience wonder.

Death Be Ridiculous: A Chat with Etiquette of Death Creator Chris Tanner and Director Everett Quinton

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Death Be Ridiculous: A Chat with <em>Etiquette of Death</em> Creator Chris Tanner and Director Everett Quinton
Death Be Ridiculous: A Chat with <em>Etiquette of Death</em> Creator Chris Tanner and Director Everett Quinton

At La MaMA, the East Village bastion of avant-garde theater that helped consolidate the off-off Broadway theater movement half a century ago, a group of downtown artists have concocted a theater piece that aims to take the sting out of death. The Etiquette of Death (playing through July 1 at the Ellen Stewart Theatre) is the brainchild of painter, collage artist, sculptor, and performer Chris Tanner, whose theater appearances includes work with Mabou Mines and the Wooster Group. The production is directed by Everett Quinton, best known for his work with the Ridiculous Theatrical Company, which was founded by his late partner Charles Ludlum in 1967. Quinton, who was 24 when he joined the Ridiculous in 1976, eventually took over artistic leadership of the company after Ludlum died from AIDS in 1987. The company disbanded a decade later due to financial constraints. Since then, Quinton has pursued a career in acting and directing, appearing in varied fare including Shakespeare, Jacobean tragedy, and the drag sci-fi B-movie spoof Devil Boys from Beyond. We talked recently to Tanner and Quinton about their current collaboration.

Sex and Violence in Downtown NYC: Caligula Maximus and Alice in Slasherland

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Sex and Violence in Downtown NYC: Caligula Maximus and Alice in Slasherland
Sex and Violence in Downtown NYC: Caligula Maximus and Alice in Slasherland

A naked girl hula hoops and asks unsuspecting audience members if they will buy her some candy. There’s a naked male roller skater. A man gets lowered on stage by a great big giant gold dong. A live band performs Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” while patrons imbibe free beer from the lobby. And that’s just in the first 10 minutes of Caligula Maximus, a rowdy, rude, loud, and eventually wearying retelling of the legend, only this time with female bodybuilders, acrobats, and full-on dance numbers with a cast that is seemingly endless.

Playing the titular, self-created deity Caligula with a cheeky, pervy, party-boy hauteur not unlike Cabaret’s furtive emcee, the brave, highly attention-catching Ryan Knowles lords over a most unruly evening, and your enjoyment of the show is probably most dependent on how anarchic your sensibilities are. This is down-and-dirty downtown theater of the crudest kind, which is highly commendable in this era of prefab junk-food theater and would be even more so if the whole enterprise (envisioned by Classical Theatre of Harlem’s Alfred Preisser and nightspot impresario Randy Weiner) didn’t feel so slickly disjointed.