by Martin Denton · April 20, 2014
Over at Metropolitan Playhouse through May 4th they're presenting East Side Stories, a new installment of an annual event wherein this excellent indie theater company celebrates its neighborhood and its neighbors by commissioning artists to create original short plays about the history and people of the East Village/Alphabet City/Lower East Side.
Half of the plays in this series are solo works created by their performers from interviews they conducted with actual, living East Village residents. I caught a program of three of these short plays, entitled "Movers," and featuring Sari Caine as Crystal Field, Lenore Wolf as April March, and Chris Harcum as Larry Schulz, all directed by Yvonne Conybeare.
Now I have to admit that not only do I know two of the performer/writers (Sari and Chris are both playwrights featured on Indie Theater Now); I've actually also met one of the subjects of these pieces, Crystal Field, the artistic director of the venerable East Side institution Theater for the New City. So it's probably not surprising that I had a great time at "Movers."
Sari really captures the essence of Crystal Field in her piece, Crystal. The splendidly detailed, chaotic set evokes TNC with wit and economy, and Sari's passionate, detached, unfocused, even frazzled portrayal of the lady who -- along with Ellen Stewart of La MaMa and Ellie Covan of Dixon Place -- really created and defined a theater neighborhood and community over the past several decades is tremendously evocative. Sari seems to have asked the right questions when she interviewed Crystal, and she reveals for us a woman of enormous talent, vitality, dedication, and all the concomitant regret and loss that naturally goes with all that. It's a fitting tribute to an important indie theater figure. (Why is there no Wikipedia page about Crystal Field?)
The second piece on the bill features Lenore Wolf as performance artist April March. Wolf has created a solo work that constantly surprises and engages, recreating her own meeting with Ms. March, who alternates between modulated delight in being asked to be part of the project and skepticism bordering on fear as she contemplates her own personal failings. The piece, which is marvelously acted by Wolf, made me hungry to learn more about Ms. March.
The final personality we encounter in "Movers" is Larry Schulz, in Chris Harcum's The Preservationist. Schulz served as business manager of the Sandra Cameron Dance Studio and before that was a journalist specializing in dance. He shares anecdotes with Chris/us in a clear-eyed, unfussy style; this is a man who knows his business and is determined to see it appropriately notated and remembered. Some fascinating slides accompany this show, illustrating the work of some of the dancers Schulz encountered during the course of his career. This is a fascinating examination of a man's relationship to a small but significant corner of the NYC art community, and Chris seems to have captured his subject with real felicity.
These portraits of three lesser-known but important contributors to the life of the Lower East Side/East Village make for extremely interesting oral history -- this project initiated by Metropolitan's artistic director Alex Roe 11 years ago lies at the intersection of theater and documentary and counts as one of the landmark projects of this excellent company. Check out "Movers" or its companion program "Shakers," or one of the two programs of original plays in the "East Village Chronicles" series, and dip your toes in the rich history of one of NYC's most diverse and vital neighborhoods.