Tom Waits in the Toilet
Tom Waits, as embodied in a chain-smoking foot-high puppet, introduces a new episode of his kids’ show, Tom Waits’ Enchanted Public Restroom. As special guests scuttle in and out of the stalls, Tom gets misty-eyed thinking about who he does it all for: the children. “This makes me think of the future,” he rasps. “And when I think of the future, I think of jet packs.”
Me, I don’t think about jet packs so much, but in thinking about the future of performance, I do think of “Phat Tuesdays”—the monthly performance party where the Elementals’ Waits piece last served as centerpiece. Curated by Boo Froebel at Galapagos, each party features a roster of works in progress, providing a testing ground for innovative performance. With past participants including Sarah East Johnson, Basil Twist, and members of ERS, you can figure many of these tests are being aced.
At April 24’s soiree, star students included Tiny Ninja Theater’s A Brief History of DUMBO and an excerpt from Cynthia Hopkins’s Beyond the Beyond, Part I. Dov Weinstein’s touching tribute followed DUMBO from prehistory up through gentrification. Hopkins—resplendent in neck brace and platinum ‘do—presented songs from her upcoming show about parricide, neurology, and witness protection. Tory Vazquez, who grappled with Wrestling Ladies, and Iréne Hultman and Colin Gee, who danced you-finder(she suffers, he boozes, but together they groove to Serge Gainsbourg), could all stand to hit the books some more, but expect them to do well on the final. Featured performers the Elementals provided the evening’s most remedial piece with their Waits toilet humor. Elemental Uncle Jimmy—who also MC’d the party—had proclaimed it “too short to suck.” Oh, really? Quick, get me that jet pack! —Alexis Soloski
Janis Joplin in the Fake Flesh
Moments after the druggy demise of Janis Joplin in Love, Janis (Village Theater), the Janis impersonator tears into “Get It While You Can”—and a rush of liberation explodes in the hall. Maybe it’s the performers’ euphoria after a job well-done, or those Saturday-night fans on their feet cheering. For me, it was relief: She could finally shut up and just fuckin’ sing.
There’s plenty to like in this faux Joplin concert and docu-bio, though not adapter-director Randal Myler’s tiresome structure. On a concert stage, two performers play Janis. Andra Mitrovich (or Cathy Richardson on alternate nights) sings 19 of Joplin’s hits. After each number, Catherine Curtin, as her private persona, speaks Janis’s actual words, from letters written to her mom or responses to reporters’ questions. These excerpts semi-dramatize her story, from her hookup with Big Brother and the Holding Company in 1966 through her fatal overdose in 1970. There’s a bit of a heart tug here, a tidbit of humor there, but it gets tedious hearing the poor girl tell Ma over and over she’s sorry she’s such a loser. This is no fault of Curtin, who, as if in a stoned haze, infuses the star with wistful pathos and a haunted edge. But soon you long for the songs. On this night it was Mitrovich, a dynamo who’s got Janis’s moves really down, backed by a terrific seven-piece band with some sizzling guitars. As she makes love to the mike, her feathers dancing in the red strobes while she growls out “Ball and Chain,” you could almost swear it was 1967. It’s all there—except for that raw-gut voice that really gave you a bloody piece of her heart. —Francine Russo
Eminem in the Life
One of the reasons Eminem has proven such an inexhaustible source of pop punditry is the improbable cohabitation of a fine poetic intelligence with a virulent strain of paranoiac malice. (Oh, plus he’s white.) The gay-thrashing wife slicer just happens to have a delicate knack for riveting pacing and internal rhyme. The culture consumer can respond to this conundrum with “Fascinating!” (see Pazz & Jop 2001) or “So what?” (“Such a sensitive bigot!”). The Wrong Fag to Fuck With (the Kraine) has it both ways: It tweaks his literary-minded champions (“I just love the way he rhymes fag with body bag,” squeals a permed TRL-er) while kindly delivering him from evil through the ripe vessel of a sweet-lovin’ man.
In Jonny McGovern’s ramshackle mini-musical, Eminem (Bruce Smolanoff) is just an ignorant hick, easily manipulated by his coke-huffing manager (Jennifer Clement) and newfound hanger-on Courtney Love (Bex), who’s jonesing for a fresh injection of sexually transmitted fame. Enter avenging angel the Gay Pimp (McGovern), a hip-swiveling funky whiteboy who purrs like Barry and scores a big hit with a remake of ‘N Sync’s “Bye Bye Bye” entitled “Girl, I Fucked Your Boyfriend Last Night.” Reading young Marshall’s phobias as self-hatred, the Pimp stages an Ecstasy-fueled showdown at the VMAs, taking on the role of a rather more aggressive Elton John figure and enlisting surprise guests from Em’s past; blank-staring VJ John Norris (Faceboy) ends up hosting a clamorous public intervention.
The performers are part of the Grindhouse-A-Go-Go collective, and they share a clubby, off-the-cuff rapport. The play’s a virtual transcript of a catty Grammy-watching party, as sloppy, indulgent, and intermittently witty as any group of buddies doing drunk rec-room improv. —Jessica Winter