Review: Avant-Garde-Arama is Alive and Well
As a long-time fan of PS122’s Avant-Garde-Arama and Tom Murrin’s Full Moon shows, I was eager to catch the tribute show held at Abrons Arts Center last weekend.
Avant-Garde-Arama: New Moon was put together as a celebration of sorts, dedicated to Murrin, a downtown luminary and performance artist (aka “The Alien Comic”), who passed away last March after a long illness. Tom never missed an A.G.A. – he performed in them for 27 years. His own Full Moon shows, performed on every full moon at PS 122, were infamous for their outrageous antics and zany rituals performed by Tom’s imaginary friend and creation, the lunar goddess, “Luna Macaroona.”
In keeping with the times, Lori E. Seid’s Lesbian Love Lounge was virtual. But everything else about the show felt familiar and in keeping with its origins nearly thirty years ago as the anything-goes downtown variety show—just as long as the ‘anything’ was under eight minutes long.
A touching film about Tom started out the festivities. Just when I started to feel down about his passing, up pops Salley May, a frequent collaborator of Tom’s and the A.G.A. curator, in her best glitter cape and platform shoes, accompanied by the A.G.A. Dancers – including the next generation of performance art stars: Salley’s daughter, Louise Belle Ethyl May, and Annabel Clare Sexton Daldry (daughter of Lucy Sexton a.k.a. DANCENOISE). They performed an all-out ode to Tom, to the tune of Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger. It felt like the downtown equivalent of a number out of So You Think You Can Dance? All splash and glitter. From there, it was smooth sailing all the way.
Salley May curated a stellar line-up of Who’s Who in the downtown performance world. On Friday, Julie Atlaz Muz and her “partner in life and love,” Mat Fraser, presided over a group of “Nude Illusionists”—the illusion coming from the head-to-toe stockings that the performers were covered in, performing an excerpt from Muz’s interactive theater extravaganza, Brave New World Study # 1: Etude en Nude. This, following a heartfelt rendition of Leonard Bernstein’s and Stephen Sondheim’s Somewhere, sung by Fraser in his glittery suit (are you sensing a theme here?). When David Leslie tossed his glitter covered cane into the audience after his “Astronaut” on the Moon performance, and I was the recipient, I knew I had become a part of A.G.A. history.
Tom would have loved every bit of it. After all, how often does one get to see a Theremin on stage played by a guy (Cornelius Loy) with a red day-glow Mohawk, black and white striped tights, and platform boots? The audience, a mix of A.G.A. regulars, artists and plain old L.E.S. types, soaked it up–cheering, laughing, and applauding throughout the evening.
Dynasty Handbag and Jonathan Ames hosted on Frieday. Dynasty rocked the house with her “bees” in her head monologue, snarky remarks and twitchy dances. No wonder Tom liked her. Ames’ was understated in his gray tweed jacket and tie, a perfect foible to Dynasty. His connection to Tom was guttural. Literally. His ode to Tom was a head up, knees bent, hand on-mouth primal “healing” scream titled, “The Hairy Call.”
I was sad to miss Saturday night. With The Factress, aka Lucy Sexton, and Nurse Baby Asparagus, aka Mike Iverson, hosting, I am sure it was a blast. But no matter what, to paraphrase the wise words of puppeteer James Godwin (who performed on Friday night) speaking about why he loves the eight-minute limit for Avant-Garde-Arama, the pieces are “too short to suck.”
Tom, we miss you. But your legacy lives on.
Robin Schatell has lived in the Lower East Side for ten years, and has worked in the arts for over 20 years, developing innovative programs and events from concept to production, and presenting adventurous new work by emerging and established artists.