As a tribute to the memory of director Harvey Tavel, who originated the Theater of the Ridiculous with his brother, the playwright Ronald Tavel, New York’s Theater for the New City will present “Two by Tavel,” a double-header of “Kitchenette” and “Life of Juanita Castro,” directed by Norman Glick, November 28 to December 14, 2014. These two ridiculous masterpieces, originally drafted as scenarios for Andy Warhol’s Film Factory, found their way to the stage in 1965 when Warhol suggested that Ronald Tavel try them out as theater. The director Ronald chose was his younger brother, Harvey.
This brilliant idea led to the birth of a genre to be named Theater of the Ridiculous, whose one-sentence manifesto, penned by Ronald Tavel, declared “We have passed beyond the Absurd, our position is totally Ridiculous!” A movement was formed which eventually split into three directions: Ronald Tavel’s plays, directed by Harvey, many presented at Theatre of the Lost Continent in the Jane West Hotel; the productions of director John Vaccaro (who staged plays by Tavel, Rosalyn Drexler and Charles Ludlam) and The Ridiculous Theatrical Group, which enjoyed a long run of Ludlam’s plays in the Sheridan Square Playhouse during the 1990s under the leadership of Everett Quinton. With cross-gender casting and drag queens as actors as two of its signature elements, Theater of the Ridiculous is now seen as the progenitor of glam rock and the Rocky Horror cult.
Writing as Andy Warhol’s scenarist, Ronald Tavel penned 22 odd scenarios for Warhol, who had acquired an Auricom sound 16mm camera and wanted lots of words for his sound tracks. His contributions to the Warhol Legacy are now much obscured, but his theatrical fame is now secure, thanks to the support of Harvey, his theatrical director, who is now described as the “power behind the throne.” Ronald died of a heart attack in 2009, the year his brother and Norman Glick were married at Harvy Fierstein’s house in Connecticut (the state allowed gay marriage at the time). Harvey Tavel died on September 25, 2013, leaving Norman Glick as conservator of the legacy of les freres Tavel.
“Kitchenette” takes place in a pseudo-realistic kitchen, made to look like an unfinished set with a toilet in the middle. It is the story of two couples who are involved in indescribable relationships. First we meet Mikie (a male) and Jo (a female), then we meet Mikey (a female) and Joe (a male). When we meet the first couple, Jo is working on her makeup, Mikie is frantic over a litter basket, and their ridiculous conversations lead to games of control, power and dominance. They are joined by the other couple, a street hustler posing as a mattress salesman and a blonde bombshell bimbo, who interact with them in psychosexual, abusive ways. Occasionally a filmmaker character takes part in the action, instructing the actors what to do, all of it going beyond the absurd into the thoroughly ridiculous. The actors will be Kika Child, Richard Craven, Eva Dorrepaal and Jorge Acosta. The filmmaker will be played by Norman Glick.
“The Life of Juanita Castro” has Fidel Castro (Ruby Lynn Reyner), Juanita Castro (Agosto Machado), Che Guevara (Jorge Acosta) and Raul Castro (Kika Child) all posing for a family portrait as a director (Norman Glick), thoroughly in charge, gives them their lines from the script. The four Cubans parrot his poetic dialogues with humorous errors. There are plenty of hijinx among the characters, including vaudeville bits with Fidel’s cigar, jokes about paranoia and censorship and lengthy expositions in Spanglish about lust, murder and Fidel’s “winsome demagoguery.” Tavel specified that the play should be performed unrehearsed and the script contains Tavel’s handwritten note, “The director holds and reads from the script at all times.” The male characters will be played by women and Juanita will be played by Ridiculous Theater veteran Agosto Machado. In a change from the original, Che Guevara will not be cast with a woman but will be played by Jorge Acosta as a flamboyant gay man.
Norman Glick, director of this evening, acted in Tavel’s plays “Gorilla Queen,” “Nutcracker in the Land of Nuts” and Shower” and in the Warhol film “Horse.” He was involved in almost every Tavel production in some capacity, from stage manager to house manager to set construction. He built the Theatre of the Lost Continent, where most of Tavel’s original plays debuted, in the Jane West Hotel. He now maintains the Ronald Tavel website in his honor, ensuring that Tavel’s works are available to all, as per his wishes.
Additional information on Ronald and Harvey Tavel is contained in Glick’s director’s notes, posted at www.jsnyc.com/season/glick.htm. Additional info on Ronald Tavel and his numerous works are available at www.ronaldtavel.com and www.warholstars.org.
Ruby Lynn Reyner was a star of Vaccarro’s Playhouse of the Ridiculous, appearing in “Conquest of the Universe,” “Heaven Grand In Amber Orbit” and “Trilby in La Bohemia” (Drama Desk Award for Acting), among others and starting her well-known band, Ruby and the Rednecks, with musicians she worked with in the Playhouse.
Agosto Machado worked with Jackie Curtis, Jack Smith, John Vaccarro’s Playhouse of the Ridiculous, Ethyl Eichelberger, H.M. Koutoukas, Jeff Weiss, Jim Neu, Charles Allcroft, Sebastian Stuart and Chris Tanner, among others. He has been in two prior productions of “The Life of Juanita Castro,” the first at TNC in 1971 directed by John Vaccarro (TNC was then producing in the Lost Continent Space); the second in TNC’s revival on 1994 directed by Harvey Tavel.
Actors Jorge Acosta, Kika Child, Richard Craven and Eva Dorrepaal bring “new energy” to the tradition, according to Agosto Machado.
Set design is by Mark Marcante. Lighting design is by Alexander Bartenieff. Costume design is by Susan Hemley.
“Two by Tavel” will be presented November 28 to December 14, 2014, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 3:00 PM. Theater for the New City is located at 155 First Ave (10th Street), New York City. Tickets are $10 general admission. The box office is (212) 254-1109 or www.theaterforthenewcity.net.