Awake and Talk!

But for all the verbal pyrotechnics, street fighting, and graphic sex, Howie the Rookie lacks reflectiveness or transcendence. Surely lower-class characters aren't all too thick to have a profound thought. O'Rowe gives us a good story, well told, with an excellent knack for detail, rhythm, and language. But he neither challenges our expectations nor deepens our understanding of the community he depicts, let alone the human condition. Perhaps the influence of reality-based TV makes O'Rowe want to leave the judgments to the audience. But a few of his own might give this piece, which tells so much more than it shows, a better reason to be onstage.

Lypsinka is another chatterbox, one who refutes Berkoff's claim about actors by fashioning the tightrope itself out of crap. For more than a decade, the drag queen who speaks only in a barrage of movie dialogue and the banter of female song stylists has been weaving deliberately bad art from popular culture's detritus. She emerged at a moment when DJ culture, lax intellectual property laws, and postmodern bricolage practitioners suggested that culture's next wave would depend as much on curatorial skills as talent. (In the wave after that, you'll recall, attractiveness and technology demolished any need for skill.)

Aidan Kelly in Howie the Rookie: verbal pyrotechnics and a few scabies.
photo: Dona Ann McAdams
Aidan Kelly in Howie the Rookie: verbal pyrotechnics and a few scabies.


Shakespeare’s Villains: A Masterclass in Evil
By Steven Berkoff
Joseph Papp Public Theater
425 Lafayette 212-239-6200

Howie the Rookie
By Mark O’Rowe
P.S. 122
150 First Avenue 212-477-5288

Lypsinka! The Boxed Set
By John Epperson
Westbeth Theatre Center
151 Bank Street 212-307-4100

In The Boxed Set, John Epperson's alter ego is perfectly coiffed as a '50s songstress—now with a wonderful twinge of fortyishness—who squeezes all the skill she can from pure artifice. As the first lady of found text lip-synchs to big band obscurities and Sunset Boulevard or Splendor in the Grass snippets, you find yourself marveling at everything that isn't singing: Lypsinka's ability to find and string together weird routines, her outfits and makeup, and especially her gestural work, an encyclopedia of splayed arms, extended fingers, beveled heels, exaggerated lips, and raised eyebrows. Lypsinka owes as much to kabuki as to karaoke, and maybe a bit to Cindy Sherman, with whom Lypsinka shares the will to explode the stereotype of put-together female stars who are falling apart inside.

The evening is as enjoyable as it is meta-enjoyable. When you applaud Lypsinka's big numbers, you usually do so along with the applause from the original recording. The past invades the present, shattering identity, turning the audience into "Clapsinkas." And you can get as much pleasure from watching Lypsinka's hard-edged, spotlighted silhouette as from watching her directly. Though it might be interesting to see Lypsinka swerve her material a bit, into a wider variety of eras, longtime fans will still be tickled by the telephone routine, where a harried Lypsinka answers three constantly ringing telephones with random bits of dialogue. When Lypsinka belts out "I've got to be me!" in the voice of—is it Liza?—you've never heard a more hilariously false statement. Great art? Crap? Let Karl Wallenda decide.

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