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A Macabre Celebration, The Etiquette of Death at La MaMa

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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.
The stage whirred with wonderful energy, riffing off our fears about mortality. With asides from other characters including the goddess Isis, a flock of deranged pigeons, Joan’s deranged daughter, Death’s hench-skeletons clad in fishnets and stilettos and monologues which range from dark musings on AIDS to slapstick anecdotes about death from gangrene.

Greta Jane Pedersen as Isis and cast members in the World Premiere of The Etiquette of Death. Photo by Ves Pitts.

The Etiquette of Death also brings up strong and disturbing questions about the nature of loss. When Joan is confronted with impending death she reverts into manic Miss Manners mode, waving her hands and reciting her private chant about beauty holding things together until she calms down. With many of the main characters in drag and the rest made up in perfectly over-the-top ways, Etiquette is also about appearances. The armor we put up to deal with death and what happens when these means of coping are ripped away.

Everett Quinton plays Death with wry, rich, flirtation and bawdy abandon, making demise darkly appealing. Tanner is pitch perfect as Joan, a tragic but steely Avon woman gone awry and Greta Jane Petersen haunts as Isis, Death’s partner in mortal punishment, floating on and off the stage with smooth, utterly haunting songs.  The Etiquette of Death is lurid, lascivious and loud, celebrating life in its own odd way, all the way to the grave.

The production was conceived by Chris Tanner and is co-directed by Everett Quinton and Julie Atlas Muz.  Choreography is by Julie Atlas Muz. It is running at La Mama as the final show in its 50th anniversary season, through July 1st.

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