With "The 47th Street Hotel" by
Rick Ebihara (who is one-third of the edgy Asian performance troupe SLANT),
La MaMa adds a comedic rock musical to its multi-national La MaMa Puppet
Series Festival. From the discarded rubbish of a midtown flophouse hotel
springs a cast of found objects-- a mattress, a worn and torn lost high
heeled shoe, a pissed off prophylactic, a prostitute's undergarments,
a mop, a roll of paper towels--who sing and rock you their life stories
and torrid tales from the urban underclass. The production premieres September
16 to 19 in the second-floor Club at La MaMa.
Ebihara only had to look out the window for inspiration. He lives near
a hotel that, although recently urban-renewed, used to be known as a haven
for prostitution and drugs. Looking at what was thrown out there, he began
musing about what the garbage had lived through, and what stories items
in the garbage could tell. This begat a collection of stories, but not
the puppets. Ebihara didn't go picking in the trash for 'em, he built
'em. They include a TV-sized VHS and such garment puppets as a larger-than-life
thong and pair of hot pants. Mostly they are larger-than-life renditions
of what he saw out his window.
The puppets, songs, music and lyrics are all by Ebihara. If you've seen
such SLANT shows as "Big Dicks, Asian Men" and "Wa Zu,"
you'll remember Ebihara as the Japanese-looking guy who plays a mean Rock
guitar. SLANT is known for modernistic dance-cum-rock-'n-roll musicals
that are ingenious and outrageous. The troupe is a three-man collaboration
of Ebihara, Perry Yung and Wayland Quintero.
Ebihara will appear as puppeteer and occasional guitar player, but the
onstage work will fall primarily on actors/puppeteers Peggy Cheng and
Erin McDonnell. Musical director is Roko Djokovic, who will perform on
guitar, keyboard and percussion. The musical style is "all pop oriented"
and a mix of rock and ballads. Lighting is by Michael Kang. Puppet contraction
is by Ebihara and Erin McDonnell. Street sign props and cityscape are
designed by Andrea Falaguerra.
It's the kind of show where the puppets are objects, not little people.
So it is always objects that are interacting. There is a scene where the
giant shorts and thong walk down the street and perform a duet with a
pair of pants. In a porn shop, a discarded VHS tape sings a lament about
being rejected and antiquated in the age of DVDs. When the discs come
out and sing, a la N Sync, it's the show's big company number. The writing
and songs are SLANT-flavored. Ebihara claims to be using "as many
puns as I can pull out of my butt" to depict the human element in
all this garbage.
"The 47th Street Hotel" began as a project of St. Ann's puppet
lab, which Dan Hurlin, Theodora Skiptares and David Neumann were mentoring
two years ago. Recently, Ebihara completed a second year at the lab, putting
together the second part of the show. The third part is being scripted
as of this writing.
Richard Ebihara was raised in Pennsylvania, Indiana and Ohio. Beside
his work with SLANT, he has acted in Pan Asian Rep's "Forbidden City
Blues," "Cambodia Agonistes" and "Letters From a Student
Revolutionary" and in Theaterworks USA's "From Sea to Shining
Sea" and "The Velveteen Rabbit." He has also performed
with Chen and Dancers in Symphony Space's Selected Shorts. He played the
lead in "The Last Hand Laundry in Chinatown" in 1999 at La MaMa.
The La MaMa Puppet Series Festival, September 16 to October 10, also features
multicultural works from India, Poland, Bali, Japan and the Czech Republic.
One production is a significant revival: the series culminates October
7 to 10 with "Motel," the puppet play of "America Hurrah,"
Jean-Claude van Itallie's trilogy, which was originally presented by La
MaMa in 1965 and is now widely regarded as the watershed Off-Broadway
play of the Sixties. The festival is supported by The Henson International
Festival of Puppet Theater and utilizes all three of La MaMa's performance