Although we do more than the average amount of theatre-going, this weekend was surely one of the most chock-full. It included “In the Next Room: The Vibrator Play,” by Sarah Ruhl, at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, “Souvenir,” featuring Judy Kaye, at A.C.T., and “Origin of Love,” by and with John Cameron Mitchell, at the Victoria.
“In the Next Room” showed how that the vibrator was often the prescription for “hysteria” in the early 20th century… for women AND men. Although the premise seems a guaranteed night of laughs, it was a rather tepid performance, and the world premiere script will likely need some tweaking to fine tune the characterizations and dramatic arc.
“Souvenir” is a fantasia on the life of Florence Foster Jenkins. She is up there with Mrs. Miller, when it comes to novelty artists/albums that people have adored for generations. I can specifically remember the first time I heard Flo. I was in a record store in Boston… I ran up to the sales guy and asked: “I must know who this is!” Amusingly, another shopper asked it to be turned down or off. I suppose that is a microcosm of the polarization around F.F.J. You either “get her” and love her, or you don’t.
Take a moment to experienct F.F.J., and even compare her to some of the finest recordings of the same aria (Lakme’s “Bell Song”):
Do you have a preference? Despite F.F.J’s performances sounding like a joke, it is largely believed that she was NOT in on the joke. As portrayed in the play, she likely heard something very different when she sang (as MANY of us do!) To make this point, one of the most beautiful moments in the play is at the very end, when after mimicking F.F.J. thoughout, Judy Kaye takes the stage and sings “Ave Maria” beautifully… as “F.F.J heard it.”
My favorite quote from the show was “singing is like dreaming in public.”
“Origin of Love” was a wonderful opportunity to see and hear JCM’s artistry LIVE, and to “share” the stage with him. I was honored to perform as a backup to Anita Cocktail, the guest host.
JCM performed “Origin of Love”, “My Funny Valentine”, “Midnight Radio”, and “Wicked Little Town”, shared a short story about his travels to Russia, and then offered commentary to his film “Shortbus”, with the help of a few other cast members. It was quite an interesting movie to watch in public. Despite a heavy indisposition earlier in the week, he sounded near 100%. Anita Cocktail performed “Making Love Alone”, a piece done by Bernadette Peters on one of her live albums. And, with her “Lovers” (incl. me), Anita performed “Contact” from Rent, and “Angry Inch” from Hedwig.
It was a very fun evening, although one of the most unorthodox and risque Valentine’s day I’ve shared in.