Theater archives

Of Mice and Men


Deep inside the utopian womb that is the Times Square Disney store, amid a sea of smiling anthropomorphic creatures with happy little names, a lone voice comes barreling out of nowhere. “People! Do not shop in the Disney store! Save yourselves!” The man shouting is dressed in priest’s garments and has a large stuffed Mickey Mouse hoisted high above his head.

Rudely aroused from their purchasing daydreams, tourists search for the source of this disruption, as a collective chill passes through the store’s employees. A look on their faces says, “Oh God, not him again.”

Yes, it is him again. Reverend Billy, guerrilla performance artist, has lately left his anticonsumerism pulpit on Times Square in favor of commando missions inside the Disney store itself. Soon, Disney security shows Reverend Billy to the door, but not before he manages to shout, “Children, Mickey Mouse is the Anti-Christ!”

Reverend Billy is the creation of Bill Talen, a performer with a long résumé in San Francisco and New York avant-garde theater. He developed the character in response to the “Disneyfication” of Manhattan, and will premiere a one-man show, I Was a Tourist in the New Times Square, at HERE beginning October 23. The stage piece incorporates preaching reenactments and video footage from his in-store raids.

Asked why Disney is his nemesis, as opposed to, say, McDonald’s or the Gap, Talen responds, “Evil has been trivialized. We haven’t been able to recognize it for a long time, but I think a lot of people suspect Disney is the great imagineer of evil.

“In 15 months Disney will leave New York,” he predicts. “I see a popular uprising. People will start ripping up the faux marble and start conducting shady business in Times Square once again.”—Richard Baimbridge

Facts in Trouble

Readers of Sarah Schulman’s new book, Stagestruck: Theater, AIDS, and the Marketing of Gay America, can decide for themselves whether or not Jonathan Larson stole material from Schulman’s novel People in Trouble for use in Rent. But readers should know that Schulman misrepresents the Voice in an episode related to the matter. In Part One of her book, Schulman accuses the Voice of killing a story about the alleged plagiarism because of a supposedly intimidating phone call from New York Theater Workshop. The Voice did kill the story—it later ran in the January 13, 1997, issue of New York magazine—but not for the paranoid reason Schulman asserts. On the contrary—the story was killed after doing just what Schulman, in Stagestruck, pleads for people to do: reading the novel and seeing the play. While there are some minor similarities between the works—explanations for which could vary—comparison of the two did not, in this editor’s eyes, support an accusation of plagiarism, which is what the article’s author, Dudley Saunders, was arguing. The Voice did receive a phone call from the play’s publicist inquiring about the nature of the story, but that call had no bearing on the purely

editorial decision to kill the article. It should also be noted that Schulman has printed this charge without herself seeking comment from the Voice. Schulman has every right to argue with the paper’s decision, but her portrait of the Voice as a puppet of NYTW is the purest fiction.—Brian Parks

Whole Lotte Lenya

“I liked your work,” George Gershwin once told Kurt Weill, “except for the soprano. Sie kreischt zuviel.” (“She squawks too much.”) Maybe so, but Weill not only stayed married to the squawky soprano—Lotte Lenya by name—for the bulk of his adult life, he declared that “all my melodies come to me in Lenya’s voice.” The frail-looking body that produced the inimitable voice was born 100 years ago this week, on October 18, 1898, and the occasion won’t go by unnoticed: Overlook Press has issued Lenya: The Legend, a lavish “pictorial autobiography” compiled by Weill archivist David Farneth; the Museum of Television and Radio, currently in the throes of a Kurt Weill retrospective (his centennial arrives in 2000), will devote its Thursday and Friday screenings in November to two rarely seen programs featuring Lenya. For those with deutsche marks to spare, a German company called Bear Family Records has issued an 11-CD box that appears, from its contents list, to contain virtually every moment at which Lenya breathed near a microphone. The better-known Columbia LP recordings from the 1950s, through which the mature voice (described by Lenya herself as “two octaves below laryngitis”) made a million young musicians shiver with excitement, have been re issued by Sony in their most complete form yet. My own favorite Lenya moment—I don’t know if it’s on the Bear Family set or not—came at her 1965 Carnegie Hall concert, when the sound system went out just as she started to sing. The technicians tinkered, it came back on, and when she stepped up to the mike, she said, “You see, darlings, alles kommt wieder” (“everything comes back”). Then she added, nervously, “Hoffentlich die Stimme mit” (“Hopefully the voice too”). She needn’t have worried.—Michael Feingold