Adah Isaacs Menken. The Naked Lady. The Great Bare. Prince Mazeppa. Infelicita. Dolorous. Black. White. Jewish. Catholic. Housewife. Lesbian. Actress. Poet. Equestrienne. World famous. Forgotten. Who was she really? Theatre Askew continues its celebration of the history of queer culture in New York City with Horseplay: or, The Fickle Mistress, a biographical reconstruction/Ridiculous reimagining of the life of the 19th-century international superstar, Adah Isaacs Menken.
Since 2004 Theatre Askew’s productions have attempted to straddle categories often set in opposition to each other: accessible and experimental; pleasing and provoking; popular and alternative. Past productions include Bald Diva! and i google myself (both nominated for GLAAD Media Awards) and I, Claudius. In 2009, Askew kicked off its queer history series with the world premiere of William M. Hoffman’s Cornbury: The Queen’s Governor, starring David Greenspan and Everett Quinton. This production marks the company’s La Mama debut.
6 QUESTIONS with Horseplay author TRAV S. D.
“I first learned about Adah Isaacs Menken when, by happenstance, I came into possession of a couple of biographies about her in the late 1980s. It was years before I read the books, but the instant I did so I knew I had to write a play about her…” READ MORE
6 QUESTIONS with Horseplay director ELYSE SINGER
“This is my first time directing in the Ellen Stewart Theatre, and it’s a great honor. I last worked here as the stage manager for Lee Nagrin’s Dragon’s Nest, which was such a formative experience. It’s also the ideal venue for Horseplay as the space is so integral to the history of popular theatre in the United States.” READ MORE
Denny Daniel is the curator and founder of The Museum of Interesting Things, a traveling interactive demonstration/exhibition of antiques and inventions inspiring innovation and creativity, that goes to schools and events, and inspires kids and adults to be curious and experimental, learning from the past to invent a better future. For more info, visit: www.museumofinterestingthings.org
Kim Marra is a professor of theatre and performance history, and the Director of Graduate Studies in the University of Iowa. She holds a quarter-time appointment in the American Studies Department and is affiliate faculty in Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies. Her book Strange Duets: Impresarios and Actresses in the American Theatre, 1865-1914 won the 2008 Joe A. Callaway Prize for Best Book on Drama or Theatre conferred biennially by NYU’s Department of English. Her new book project is entitled Fashioning the Thoroughbred Ideal: Show Women and Show Horses on American Stages, 1865-1930.
Joe E. Jeffreys is a professor in the Tisch School of Arts at New York University, and theatre historian. His work has been published in journals including The Drama Review, Women & Performance, Theatre History Studies, and biography. His theatre and book reviews have been widely published in periodicals including The Village Voice, TheateWeek, The Advocate and The Lambda Book Report.
Karen Karbiener is a master teacher in the Liberal Studies Program at New York University. She is a scholar of nineteenth century American literature and culture with a special interest in Walt Whitman and his beloved New York. Karbiener holds a Ph.D. from Columbia University and taught at Colby College. She has curated public exhibits on Whitman and organized Whitman-related events in New York.
Michael and Barbara Foster married at 20 and ever since have lived and worked together co-authoring several books, including: Dangerous Woman: The Life, Loves, And Scandals Of Adah Isaacs Menken, 1835-1868; The Secret Lives of Alexandra David-Neel: A Biography of the Explorer of Tibet and Its Forbidden Practices; and Three in Love: Menages a Trois from Ancient to Modern Times with Letha Hadady.
“Ms. Pope, an assured performer with a brazen alto, shines in the role, changing her accent and identity even more often than her bloomers. “I’m whoever I need to be,” Adah tells a lover. With brio and brass, Ms. Pope is, too.” — NEW YORK TIMES
“Before there was Kim Kardashian, there was Adah Isaacs Menken… and there is no more delightful way to learn about Menken than Trav S.D.’s Horseplay… It’s a rollicking and unbelievable story, overflowing with scrappy DIY theatricality.” — THEATERMANIA
“Pope is marvelous, fluidly changing accents and outfits in front of our eyes (costumes, wigs, props and set pieces are all in full view), belting out a few numbers in her smoky voice and maintaining charm when delivering some very dark punch lines.” — TIME OUT, NY
“Under Elyse Singer’s zippy direction, the versatile troupe of actors play multiple roles, often making head-spinning rapid character and gender switches… But none of this would work without the central and terrific portrayal of Adah Isaacs Menken by Molly Pope, in whose acting you’ll find traces of Barbra Streisand, Gilda Radner, Mae West, Carol Burnett, and Bette Midler.” — TALKIN’ BROADWAY
PRE-SHOW COMMUNITY EVENTS
Free / in the Ellen Stewart Theater at La MaMa
Friday, February 27th, 6.45 pm
Denny Daniel from the Museum of Interesting Things will do a presentation using items from his collection on Victorian stage effects, photographic equipment, and magic lanterns. Adah Isaacs Menken was one of the first celebrities to seize upon the potential of the then-new medium of photography to further her career.
Saturday, February 28th, 6.45 pm
Scholars Kim Marra, Joe E. Jeffreys and Karen Karbiener will examine Adah Isaacs Menken’s theatre and literary practices. This lively discussion will focus on the intersection of queer female bodies and horses; women cross-dressing as male characters in American popular entertainment; and the bohemian literary scene around Pfaff’s Cellar of the 1860s that Menken and Walt Whitman were part of.
Sunday, March 1st, 2:45 pm
Authors Michael and Barbara Foster will be doing a presentation on the fascinating life of Adah Isaacs Menken. They wrote the book on her. Literally. From the pages of their biography Dangerous Woman: The Life, Loves, And Scandals Of Adah Isaacs Menken, they will shed light on the elusive story behind “America’s Original Superstar.” As part of their talk, they will show images from their extensive collection of Menken photographs—one of the most photographed personalities of her time.