By John Gilman
It was big blizzard time in March at the Cherry Lane Theater in the Village and just about everywhere else. The Cherry Lane (pictured above) at 38 Commerce Street, founded by poet Edna St. Vincent Millay and some of her writer pals, has been leased by Primary Stages, which, according to its Executive Producer Casey Childs, has presented new plays in New York for over three decades.
Last fall, the company produced Horton Foote’s play The Roads to Home at the Cherry Lane (favorably reviewed in the November 2016 issue of WestView), and from January through March, Tanya Saracho’s play Fade. From March through May, there is a new play by Michael McKeever entitled Daniel’s Husband. Primary Stages’ Off-Broadway Oral History Project, which celebrates the visionaries who created New York’s vibrant Off- and Off-Off Broadway theater, launched its video project website at a cold and blustery March 2nd evening event at the Jerome L. Greene Performance Space at 44 Charlton Street. Participants honored that day included, playwrights Paul Foster, Jean Claude van Italie, Michael McGrinder, Robert Heide, Robert Patrick, Christopher Durang, Arthur Kopit, John Guare; performers George Bartenieff, Kathleen Chalfant, Lois Smith, John Gilman, Black-Eyed Susan; and many others. Sally Plass, Primary Stages’ Director of the Oral History Project, recommends the site’s amazing videos of many of New York’s most creative people at primarystagesoffcenter.org.
March 8th saw a memorial and celebration of director Robert Dahdah’s life and career at Crystal Field’s Theater for the New City, with playwright Barbara Kahn as Master of Ceremonies. Dahdah’s Off- and Off-Off Broadway productions from 1959 to 1994 included dozens, notably the musical Dames at Sea, or Golddiggers Afloat. Starring in her debut role, the 16-year-old Bernadette Peters astoundingly mounted on a tiny stage at the legendary Caffe Cino on Cornelia Street. Dahdah followed its success by writing with Mary Boylan the musical Curley McDimple, a retelling of Shirley Temple’s life, also featuring Bernadette Peters as Alice Faye.
Organized by Barry Rowell and Catherine Porter of the Peculiar Works Project, Barbara Kahn, Magie Dominic, Robert Heide, and John Gilman, the memorial included a reading of Heide’s The Bed originally directed by Dahdah at the Caffe Cino—this one by Tim Cusack and featuring Oryan West and Gordon Ramsey. Jim Jennings, an actor in the original production, reminisced about the play and movie version of The Bed shot by Andy Warhol. Magie Dominic, curator of the Caffe Cino archives at Lincoln Center, presented a dynamic PowerPoint slide show with footage of never-before-seen aspects of Dames at Sea’s original production.
Another musical tribute video featured the young and vibrant Harris sisters Mary Lou, Jayne Anne, and Eloise portraying the Andrews Sisters, directed by Dahdah, singing Boogie Woogie Bugle Boys of Company B and I’ll Be with You in Apple Blossom Time. A video featured Gillien Goll acting out a hilarious pot-smoking scene from Reefer Madness, a production presented at Theater for the New City and directed by Dahdah. A special video from California playwright Robert Patrick rounded out the program.
Another memorial was held in March—this one on the 22nd at The Cutting Room at 44 East 32nd Street for beloved WFUV radio host of The Big Broadcast Rich Conaty, with Vince Giordano and his famed Nighthawks Orchestra at the helm. Rich specialized in playing rare 1920s and 1930s era 78-rpm recordings on his remarkable program, which continues in replay each Sunday from 8:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. on WFUV (90.7)—so continue tuning into The Big Broadcast.
Jimmy Rado, author of the world famous Broadway show Hair, co-written with Jerry Ragni, with music by Galt MacDermot and directed by Tom O’Horgan, pictured above in a hippie headband with playwright Robert Heide at the La MaMa Coffeehouse Chronicles, celebrated the 50th anniversary of the world famous American tribal love-rock musical and Jimmy’s 85th birthday. The event included performances by many original Hair performers including Aquarius sung by Melba Moore; I Got Life sung by Andre De Shields; Easy to Be Hard sung by Ellen Foley; Frank Mills sung by Debbie Andrews; Black Boys sung by Annie Golden, Marjorie Lipari, and Natalie Masco; and Hippie Life sung by Jimmy Rado, A. D. Coughlan, and Robert I. Rubinsky. The finale had actors coming forward one by one to sing their parts, followed by a rousing rendition of The Flesh Failures/Let the Sunshine In sung by the entire cast and audience.
Later, from March 29th through April 1st, a full production of Hair (including acting and singing) was performed at the Connelly Theater at 220 East 4th Street. It was directed by Ari Rodriguez and featured cast members 50 years old or older. All events discussed here (except for the Primary Stages’ Cherry Lane productions) were free.