Off-Broadway's New Victory Theatre continues to offer a mix of plays, dance companies and circus-acrobatic-style troupes, all part of the theatre's commitment to family-oriented shows that don't fall into the pejorative "children's theatre" trap. Among the companies featured in 2000-01 have been the UK's Young Vic outfit, Ping Chong's Kwaidan, and the world-famous Peking Acrobats.
This-coming season will see the return of some old favorites — including Fred Garbo's Inflatable Theatre Company and Mabou Mines' masterwork, Peter and Wendy — as well as visits from a Spanish dance troupe and a French-Canadian cuet.
Opening the season, Sept. 7-23 is the Barcelona-based dance company, Camut Band, with the percussive Life is Rhythm, mixing African rhythms and flamenco dance.
Martha, a puppet-and-people comedy-drama about a chatty goose and a cranky old woman, follows Oct. 5-14. The piece is produced by The Catherine Wheels Theatre Company, whose founders brought The Red Balloon to the New Victory last season.
Oct. 19-Nov. 4 brings Tom's Midnight Garden, courtesy of London's Unicorn Theatre. David Wood's adaptating of Philippa Pierce's story tells of a modern-day boy transported back to Victorian times. Film fun arrives Nov. 9-25, as the Blue Grassy Knoll band of Melbourne, Australia, arrives to play accompaniment for two Buster Keaton silents, "One Week" and "Sherlock Jr."
Spending the holidays at the New Victory (Nov. 30-Jan. 13, 2002) will be The Flaming Idiots, returning to the New Vic with more juggling and dangerous stunts, such as shredding newspapers with bullwhips, juggling beach balls with leaf blowers, and generally cavorting with torches. "What Goes Up" has been tagged with the same "New Vaudeville" moniker given to such entertainments as Fool Moon. Rob Williams, Jon O'Connor and Kevin Hunt — call them, "Gyro, Pyro and Walter" — comprise the Austin, TX based troupe.
Pop-up book sets, flying sequences and Celtic music punctuate Peter And Wendy, a bunraku puppet adaptation of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan by the Mabou Mines troupe, playing a return engagement Feb. 1-24, 2002. A hit at the 1996 International Festival Of Puppet Theatre (at the Public Theatre), Peter And Wendy then came to the New Victory Theatre in February 1997. An engagement at Los Angeles' Geffen Playhouse followed that December.
Like most Mabou Mines pieces, Peter & Wendy "melds movement, theatre, imagery and music into a rich theatrical tapestry." Lee Breuer (The Gospel At Colonnus) directs Liza Lorwin's adaptation of the Barrie fantasy. Julie Archer provides the sets, Johnny Cunningham the Scottish music.
Hoping to capture the moment when childhood imagination gives way to adult reality, director Breuer hopes to represent "absolute reality from five-year-old's point of view." In so doing, the Darling Nursery becomes Neverland, Wendy's bed a pirate ship and Nana a crocodile. Bunraku "shadow" puppets are held by visible, onstage puppeteers. The only human character, however, is narrator Karen Kandel, supplying all the voices — from Wendy to Captain Hook to Peter Pan. She won an Obie for this performance and went on to appear in Anna Deavere Smith's House Arrest, in Washington DC.
Mabou Mines, founded in 1970 and named for a community in Nova Scotia, was mixing theatre with visual and multi-media long before the experimental move "performance art" established itself. Philip Glass, JoAnne Akalaitis, Ruth Maleczech and David Warrilow have all worked with the troupe on its two dozen productions staged throughout the world.
Fans of Peter And Wendy can hear its score on the recently-released recording of songs from the show. Composed by fiddle virtuoso Johnny Cunningham, 20 Celtic songs appear on the Alula Records CD (ALU-1006). The Peter & Wendy recording features vocal and instrumental performances by Cunningham, Susan McKeown, Seamus Egan, Jay Ansill, Larry Campbell, Jamshied Sharifi, Mick McAuley, Charlie Giordano, and Ben Wittman as well as narration by Kandel. The CD comes boxed with a keepsake booklet that includes photographs and illustrations from the play and an introduction and narrative adaptation by playwright Lorwin.
Coming to the New Victory March 1-17, 2002, Donald Byrd/The Group offers classical ballet with a modern twist.
Fred Garbo's Inflatable Theatre Co. takes the stage March 22-April 14, 2002 for an evening of blow-up shapes with which the performers can bounce, juggle and cavort. Garbo, a "pneumatic wizard," and Brazillian ballerina Daielma Santos star. Among the characters are Puff the Air-Dale and Fred Zeplin, the Inflatable Man.
Garbo appeared in the Broadway musical Barnum and has worked the insides of Barkley the Dog on TV's "Sesame Street." His show played under the title "Air Time" when it ran at the New Victory in March 1998.
Two friends, one of whom is very sick, escape to a world of fantasy in Matthew and Stephen, arriving April 19-28, 2002. The two-person drama, penned by Jean-Rock Gaudrealt and translated by Linda Gaboriau, is presented by the Montreal tropue, Mathieu, Francois et les autres [sic]. Jacinthe Potvin directs.
Froggies, reptiles and penguins invade May 3-26, 2002, as Portland, OR's Imago Theatre troupe bring the second plague to the New Victory for a second time. Frogz, with its madcap masks and costumes, offers "a carnival of the absurd."
Closing the New Victory season, May 31-June 16, 2002 will be the Spanish dance troupe Noche Flamenca, led by dancer Soledad Barrio.
The New Victory serves as the 42nd Street host house for national and international productions, mostly geared towards New York City youth. The 1999-2000 season featured, among others, the Philadelphia Dance Company, Shockheaded Peter, Tomas Kubinek, Suzanne Farrell and the masters of 20th Century Ballet.
Among the practical information available on the company's website, www.newvictory.org, are show descriptions, schedules, show articles and reviews, special events listings, RealAudio and Video clips, online ticketing and a 3-D virtual tour of the New Victory Theatre. For tickets ($10-$30, plus membership packages available) and information call (212) 239-6200.
— By David Lefkowitz