a theatre, film & pop culture review
Tucked away in SoHo — far below the razzle dazzle of 42nd Street with its falling Spideys and dancing drag queens — you’ll happen upon a dark underbelly of musical theatre. In a nondescript loft on Mercer Street, a Whore cooly gets it on with a Sailor, a sardonic Nurse plays nurse to an injured College Boy, a philandering Husband and an aloof Young Thing have a tangled tryst aboard a sinking ship.
Michael John LaChiusa’s 1994 chamber musical inspired by Arthur Schnitzler’s 1900 play La Ronde, doesn’t wink-wink, nudge-nudge its way through the carnalities of couplings. This is about sex at its seediest level — the emptiness in every anonymous lusty encounter — and you hear the desolation in every atonal chord. Schnitzler’s play scandalously showcased sexual desire as the sole class equalizer, but not such a shocking concept in 20th century “classless” America, MJL pulls focus a bit. Keeping his couples in power struggles, he does so while jumping back and forth in time, allowing for a lusty, dreamlike score that incorporates genres from Viennese opera to jazz, boogie-woogie to the blues. While this convolutes the daisy chain of carnal encounters (wait — how were those two connected again??), it’s a small price to pay for all the puckish wordplay and sophisticated score.
In the Transport Group‘s revival, Sandra Goldmark’s arrangement of the long, open space has the audience sitting at ten round tables that surround the central set piece — a bed perched upon a platform. Director Jack Cummings and choreographer Scott Rink’s intimate staging around these ten mini-stages ensure that no matter where you sit, you’re sure to get a bare buttock thrust in your face at some point in the evening. Sex is shameless, and with the help of the dozens of merciless mirrors hanging from the walls, the remarkably unselfconscious cast offers you an up, close and very personal view of it. Standouts include comic natural Elizabeth Stanley (Company, Million Dollar Quartet) whose Nurse naively succumbs to the indifference of the Soldier’s (Max von Essen) crass advances in one vignette only to smartly seduce a College Boy patient (Robert Lenzi) in the next, and Jonathan Hammond (Ragtime, Light in the Piazza) as the Writer is both the larger-than-life braggadocio and the quietly longing romantic in his fully rounded portrayal.
As in-your-face as the sex is, it’s never lewd or gratuitous. Our ability to see these erotic encounters in detail from every conceivable angle — and to see their effects in the stoic/smirking/shocked/satisfied faces of our fellow audience members — serves to show that no one is immune to this most base of desires. If you prefer your sex coated in sugary showtunes and happy endings (of the sentimental variety), grab the N/Q/R uptown and catch a matinee of La Cage Aux Folles or Mama Mia! But for a brazen downtown and deeply honest perspective, visit the Mercer loft and say Hello, Again to Michael John LaChiusa. You’ll be glad you did.
Hello, Again runs through April 10 at 52 Mercer Street