|You can see and hear a lot of life in a New
York taxi. "The Lunatics' Ball," by Claudia Menza, follows fourteen
New Yorkers, played by five actors, among them a transvestite, a waiter,
a homeless woman, and a voyeur, as they reflect, confess, complain, posture,
fight, and romance. The work is directed by Harold Dean James and features
his own videographic effects.
Everything begins and ends in the taxi, which is driven by a 55-year-old
Italian-American--a good-hearted wiseguy who inspires confessions in some
of his fares and arguments with others. The passengers reveal themselves
primarily in monologues but occasionally in two- and three-character scenes.
All are flavorfully written and rich in autobiographical detail. Ishmael
Reed wrote of the book of poetry that led to this play, "The Lunatics'
Ball" plumbs strata of the physical, psychological, and spiritual
New York...she is an artist columnist who seeks the higher truths that
lie hidden in the mundane....In Claudia Menza, New York has found the
meta-reporter of its heartbeat."
The production is designed by director Harold Dean James, whose métier
is transforming the stage space into other dimensions, often through innovative
use of video. This play will be staged on a single set with movable seat
modules and video portholes through which projections will establish the
taxi, shifting fluidly to other locations, such as a bedroom, a nail salon,
a bar, an analyst’s office, and the subway, as these New Yorkers
tell their stories.
James' previous La MaMa productions have demonstrated his unusual use
of technical effects to expand the concept of the stage space. His "X
Train" (La MaMa, 1994) was a subway trip with special video effects
that unraveled into a “Twilight Zone haze” (Hannaham, Village
Voice). In "Call Backs" (La MaMa, 1998), a woman scorned at
summer theater auditions wreaked a "Twilight Zone" revenge on
the producers by gunning them down in revenge for their crudeness. Through
stage effects, including innovative use of scrims, they spent the rest
of the play gaping at their bodies from a netherworld while they were
mocked in a series of outrageous monologues. James' other La MaMa productions
include "Dance Card" (1996) and "What Happened to Me"
(2000) and a musical, "The Good Faith," (2003). In all of the
above, he was playwright and director. "The Lunatics' Ball"
is his second time staging another playwright's work at La MaMa. The first
was "First Kill," written and performed by Frank Damico (1999).
Claudia Menza is a poet turned playwright. Her books of poetry are "Cage
of Wild Cries" (Mosaic Press, 1990) and "The Lunatics Ball"
(Mosaic Press, 1994). The latter had the beginnings of the play, including
a couple of its characters, and a title that was "so descriptive
of New York I had to use it again." Her “Poem for Miles Davis”
was published in "The Dream Book: An Anthology of Writing by Italian-American
Women Writers" (Schocken Books, 1985), which is the winner of an
American Book Award. Her work also appears in "I Speak of the City:
Poems of New York" (Columbia University Press, 2007). She toured
England in 1993 in "The Claudia and Charles Show," a scripted
work about her literary marriage to her husband Charles Frye, based upon
and using their work throughout the script. This is her first play; it
began as a series of character monologues which she wrote as a transition
from her poetry. She described how the play evolved, saying, "When
writing in poetry, I wrote in first person to get inside the characters."
Later, she performed the characters at universities, playing all the parts
in an evening of about an hour.
Ms. Menza lives in the West Village. She started her literary career
as Assistant Editor at "The Evergreen Review" from 1969-1973.
She is a partner in The Menza-Barron Agency, a literary agency representing
fiction and nonfiction.
The actors are Paul Albe, Daniel D. Clymer, Lynn Eldredge, Joy Kelly
and Cezar Williams. Most have worked with Harold Dean James in prior productions.