Peggy Shaw in the “Ruff” at LaMaMa

RUFF -- La MaMa E.T.C. presents Peggy Shaw in  "Ruff," directed by Lois Weaver, written by Shaw and Weaver.  Photo by Lee Wexler/Images for Innovation.

RUFF — La MaMa E.T.C. presents Peggy Shaw in
“Ruff,” directed by Lois Weaver, written by Shaw and Weaver. Photo by Lee Wexler/Images for Innovation.

When Peggy Shaw hobbles onto stage I think, uh oh, she can’t walk right. Is this from the stroke she had in 2011? Shaw is one of my favorite performers–a stalwart of the downtown theater scene. Co-founder of the award winning lesbian performance group Split Britches. But she’s wobbly because she is only wearing one shoe—holding the other one in her hand, along with a bottle of water and an orange.  A funny moment, after I think about it, and a wonderful way to put her audience at ease.

This is Ruff – Shaw’s solo show, written in collaboration with her long time writing partner Lois Weaver, about continuing on with life and art after suffering a stroke. Suffer may not be the right word for Shaw. She still commands the stage with her formidably butch frame–suited with her signature Marlon Brando-esque skinny tie, circa 1950, accompanied by a surprisingly soft voice and what always seems like a wink and a laugh.

During the show she explains the incident: “I was minding my own business, and an icicle of death hit the ocean floor of my brain.” Half of her brain is missing, she tells us, “there was just no more room for new thoughts in my brain. It had reached capacity.” And so according to her, it merely started to leak. Shaw recounts the events of the fateful day she ended up in the hospital, of the “potholes” in her brain that need to be filled and of the things she has trouble with now, like remembering words (hence the clever use of rolling video monitors as teleprompters and props). As she tells stories about family members and movies stars who inspired her; we can’t but be drawn inside her brain.

Ruff, which premiered at last year’s Coil Festival, mixes cabaret, storytelling and song. Performed on a “green screen of her mind” Shaw interacts with “unearthed memories,” video projections of her band, and the occasional floating fish. Her humor shines through as does her cleverness. Her stroke was in her “PONS, which rhymes with the ‘Fonz’” she tells us — one of her early role models. Luckily, this part of her brain does not appear to be leaking out. But don’t try to figure out what part of her brain is missing; she confesses that she doesn’t know what is going on in her brain, herself.

Should we be sad? Shaw really doesn’t give us the option. There is nothing sentimental or maudlin about her story. This is an artist’s tale: touching, funny, moving, theatrical. There is no stigma attached. At one point, Shaw tells us she’s seen the inside of her brain–she’s got the pictures to prove it, but that you can never take a picture of your thoughts. And yet, she rejoices in that fact that she can still fill hers with new insights.

Ruff, performed by Peggy Shaw, written by Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver, directed by Lois Weaver continues its run Thursday – Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and on Sunday, January 26 at 2:30 p.m. at La MaMa’s First Floor Theater, 74A East Fourth Street.

Arts Watch: La Mama Moves! Dance Fest Kicks Off June 7

Jennifer Monson  Courtesy La Mama

Jennifer Monson
Photo by Valerie Oliviero. Courtesy La Mama e.t.c

The month long La Mama Moves! Dance Festival 2013  kicks off this week and it looks like a great one. This year’s 8th annual festival celebrates dance artists who have performed at La MaMa through the years, and features ten premieres, including several full-length works, by an exciting international line-up of emerging and seasoned choreographers.

Arts Watch: Dancer/Choreographer Lance Gries’ FIFTY Project @ La MaMa

K.J. Holmes, Lance Gries, Jonathan Kinzel, Jimena Paz, Jodi Melnick.

K.J. Holmes, Lance Gries, Jonathan Kinzel, Jimena Paz, Jodi Melnick.

Pivotal marks in life are always worth noting.  Former Trisha Brown dancer and Bessie-nominated choreographer Lance Gries has found an exceptional way to celebrate his 50th birthday. He invited fifty New York and European colleagues from his 25 year career to “meet him in a studio” and dance with him—for fifty minutes of course. Luckily, he recorded these encounters — and worked in collaboration with Mike Taylor on the design and editing of the video. The results? The FIFTY Project – a series of beautifully intimate dances on film; duets between Lance and some of the world’s most interesting and creative dance makers.

Arts Watch: Two World Premieres to Catch This Weekend

Nancy Giles. Photo by Jim Moore.

February starts off with a theatrical bang this weekend as not one, but two shows will have their world premieres on downtown stages.

The first is Nancy Giles’ autobiographical show, The Further Adventures Of The Accidental Pundette, at Dixon Place.  You might recognize Ms. Giles from her appearances on CBS News Sunday Morning where she has voiced her opinions on everything from politics and pop culture to the conspiracy of high heels for the past ten years (she was also part of the ensemble cast of the critically acclaimed TV series China Beach). But that is just her day job. Ms. Giles has been a downtown theater fixture for years, honing her craft at Dixon Place and other experimental spaces.

La MaMa Roof Goes White to Stay Cool

Volunteers coat the roof of the La MaMa theater in reflective white paint. Photos from the White Roof Project’s Facebook page.

While last week’s rain brought relief from the scorching heat, the La MaMa Theater underwent a change that should keep it cooler for the long haul. On Wednesday,  June 18th, the theater’s roof acquired a white paint job that will block the sun’s rays and reduce the buildings’ need to consume electricity for cooling purposes. The project was a collaboration between La MaMa, neighboring creative non-profit Fourth Arts Block and the White Roof Project, a group that paints building roofs a solar-reflective shade in order to reduce energy consumption. “Cool roof” supply companies Allied Building Products and Great White Coatings pitched in materials for the event, and volunteers went to work with brushes and rollers.

A Macabre Celebration, The Etiquette of Death at La MaMa

Brandon Olson as Joey Girdler (center) and cast members in the World Premiere of The Etiquette of Death. Photo by Ves Pitts

Death can be uproarious. The macabre is celebrated in The Etiquette of Death, the final show in La Mama’s 50th anniversary run. Gaudy, glitzy, glamorous and demented, the musical comedy pits Joan Girdler (Chris Tanner), an over the top cosmetics saleswoman who is somewhat famous in the beauty circles, against Death (Everett Quinton), a bawdy queen who is both enamored of Joan’s work and also out to usher her and her melancholic, invalid son (Brandon Olson) into the afterlife.

Arts Watch: Chris Tanner’s ‘Etiquette of Death’ Premiers at La MaMa

La MaMa closes its 50th Anniversary season with a show about death. Death you say? Yes. Well, the topic is still fresh in the minds of all who know and love La Mama, since it was only last year that the famed ‘Mama’ of La Mama, Ellen Stewart, passed away at the age of 91. Her golden touch is felt in every corner of the place, and in fitting tribute to her influence on generations of artists that have graced La MaMa’s stages these past fifty years, they have chosen to present the world premier of Chris Tanner’s The Etiquette of Death.

Review: A Ribald Tribute to Jackie Curtis at La MaMa

Jackie Curtis was a Lower East Side legend. The actor, writer and singer would perform as both a man and a woman throughout his career, becoming a Warhol superstar and pioneering downtown drag with his signature red hair, torn stockings and face bedecked with glitter. In Jukebox Jackie, starring Mx. Justin Vivian Bond, Bridget Everett, Cole Escola, Steel Burkhardt, which opened at La Mama over the weekend, Jackie’s legacy is brought to life in vivid color. The review is a medley of ribald rock monologues musing on Jackie’s life, sexy scenes from his films such as Women In Revolt and a coordinated ensemble reading of Curtis’ famous poem, B-Girls.

The show is a passionate homage to glamour, played out on a glittering pink stage in front of a screen projected with images of Warhol stars like Nico and John Cage and the Hollywood legends that inspired much of Jackie’s style, like Greta Garbo and James Dean.

Most moving about Jukebox Jackie is the commentary on fame and loneliness, the half-broken dreams of stardom as a saving force, one that lifts us up from our mundane surroundings and celebrates individuality and the strange—in this case Jackie’s outspoken drag personality—in ways that everyday people might not relate to.

Arts Watch: Yoshiko Chuma Brings Her ‘Love Story, Palestine’ to LaMama

Yoshiko Chuma, conceptual artist, choreographer and artistic director of The School of Hard Knocks is known to court danger and controversy far and wide. Born in Osaka, Japan but residing in the U.S. since 1978, a lifetime fascination with cross-cultural dialogue has propelled her around the world. In April 2011, she traveled with fifteen artists from Japan and the US over several international borders to Ramallah, to work with members of the Palestinian Dance Troupe El-Funoun. Together they created 6 Seconds in Ramallah, an emotionally charged multimedia performance work that merged the popular folk heritage of El-Funoun with the conceptual performance style of Chuma.

Arts Watch: “33 x 3,” A Split Britches Reunion at La Mama

"Upward Mobile Home" (1984). Photo via Split Britches website.

Since 1980, the groundbreaking feminist theater company Split Britches has transformed the landscape of queer performance with their vaudevillian, satirical gender-bending performances. In their own words, they create “new forms by exploiting old conventions.” They proudly declare their work is “personal, bordering on the private…about a community of outsiders, queers, eccentrics – feminist because it encourages the imaginative potential in everyone, and lesbian because it takes the presence of a lesbian on stage as a given.”

Split Britches’ productions have gained them awards and accolades around the world—they recently received The Edwin Booth Award in recognition of their outstanding contribution to the New York City/American Theatre and Performance Community.

Clowning Around With Actor Alan Tudyk at La MaMa

Alan Tudyk in That Beautiful Laugh at La MaMa. Photo courtesy of The Artigiani Troupe.

These days, it seems clowns have a bad reputation. But, in That Beautiful Laugh, which opened this past weekend at La Mama, a hilarious cast of clowns takes that reputation to task. Based on bedtime stories that creator and director Orlando Pabotoy told to his five year-old son, That Beautiful Laugh is full of whimsy and funny fantasy.

The show is superbly acted by Alan Tudyk, Carlton Ward and Julia Ogilvie. Though there were children in the audience and the play exudes the light-hearted freedom of youth, there are some darker moments as the clowns deal with smashed hopes, grief and terror.

The sparkling action on stage had the audience laughing uproariously throughout, and I was transported to a place where dreams have more weight and games have more meaning. Those early frolics that help us figure out the adult world were explored in a fantastic and riveting way.

Camp Wanatachi Comes to La MaMa

On many people’s “top picks” for the weekend is the musical comedy, Camp Wanatachi: A New Musical About Sex, God and Summer Camp, which opens tonight at LaMaMa. It was a favorite at the 2009 Fringe Festival and is back with a full-fledged run at the Ellen Stuart Theater. The Village Voice notes, “Christian camp can be enlightening—and not just in a religious sort of way.