Yet another reason to be in New York sometime in the next week, more specifically Miller’s Launch, a forgotten corner of Staten Island. Mabou Mines, a theatre company that has been thrilling my sensibilities for 30 years, has done it again and stepped way outside the expected. This time it is a new production from a barge. Song for New York: What Women Do While Men Sit Knitting, is the company’s seaborne celebration of New York in music and verse, and is their first site-specific production.
From the New York Times:
“Song for New York” came together over several years. Ms. Maleczech [a founder of Mabou Mines] first conceived of it in 2002, partly as a response to Sept. 11. By 2003, she had chosen five women to write the five poems, one for each borough, that form the basis of the work.
“It’s a response to Walt Whitman’s great New York poems, and Hart Crane’s Brooklyn Bridge poem,” she said. “Those poems are old now, and I thought it would be good for women to speak for the city.”
The new verses are sung by five of them to a mishmash of musical styles, from jazz ballads to tarantellas. They’re connected by a historical narrative — a yarn, in Mabou’s parlance.
My exposure to this remarkable troupe (a better word to describe the assemblage of people who have orbited around founder Lee Breuer) began when they breezed through University of California at Santa Cruz my last year of college in the mid-70′s. Several of my friends were so compelled by their encounter with intense and charismatic Lee that they moved to New York to continue working with him. Alison Yerxa, a woman of consummate talents, stayed with me in my loft in the Lower East Side before she found a place of her own. My memory of that time is highlighted by her assignment to build a 10 foot high transistor radio for Shaggy Dog Animations. (Alison went on to design the spectacular backdrop for the initial–and now legendary–production of Gospel at Colonus at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and is presently a special effects guru in Los Angeles.)
Recent MM productions continue a history of boundary busting. Red Beads featured Breuer and Maleczech’s daughter Clove suspended above the stage, and the 2003 production of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House was performed by male midgets and very tall women. The children’s furniture on stage was painfully undersized for these statuesque women, and the men were carried in the arms of the women like toddlers. I will never experience that play the same again.
What I have always loved about Mabou Mines is the way visual imagery is treated as a character. It isn’t a secondary concern or just a back drop to the theatrical vision. This is similar to what I find most provocative about Matthew Barney’s Cremaster as well. Both speak to the visual imagination in a manner that is intuitive, poetic, nonlinear and subconscious. In a word, delicious.