Act Now: A Variety Show Review
“We can give each other love in lots of different ways,” said Julian Fleisher. “I guess.” The off-Broadway crooner, writer, producer and tight vest-wearer was an apt co-host for Act Now: A One-Time Only, Pre-Election, Anti-War Call-to-Action and Variety Show! at NYU’s Judson Church on January 18. Fleisher, typically cheeky and aloof, joined earnest dancer and performance artist Lucy “The Factress” Sexton in introducing and filling the gaps between nearly a dozen political, comical, and spiritual entertainers at the Love Everybody Movement’s most recent event. Founded in 2001 by political activist Heidi Dorow, Love Everybody produces one-off events designed, according to her blog, to “promote love, fun, and community for both participants and viewers.” In this spirit of open egalitarianism, some acts sizzled and others only simmered.
After everyone had dipped into the free Budweiser bucket, taken a Polaroids-for-Peace picture with an orange-hatted Love Everybody representative, and signed a laminated anti-war postcard to be sent to Senators Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer, Fleischer stood on a table laced with pink and white hearts at the foot of the stage and launched into a lounge version of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.” Dancers in black underwear filed in from stage left wearing photocopied masks of presidential candidates’ faces, participants in Sexton’s version of America’s Next Top Model. Acrobats Diana Greiner and Natalie Agee brought out Baby Blue, a tiny, shiny BMX bicycle, and crisscrossed the stage and aisle standing on the pegs and each others’ shoulders, passed the bike between them as they spun in circles, and trailed a baton strung with little feathered doves as they pedaled forward and back. Silent except for the sounds of rubber on polished wood, their five-minute performance was light as peace and sweet as pie.
Miguel Gutierrez and Andrew Champlin stomped onto the stage after intermission, wearing two pairs of brightly colored underwear, two short canvas aprons, and one giant t-shirt to kick off the night’s most rollicking dance. Holding a script between them, they began Gutierrez’s piece The Problem With Dancing by shouting quickly into handheld mics everything we should not expect the dance to do. “It doesn’t cure cancer/It doesn’t cure AIDS/It doesn’t pay the mortgage/It doesn’t get you maternity leave/It doesn’t shine your shoes…” Then, periodic interjections to yell at celebrities and enact passionate sex–“Britney! Come back! Don’t get lost!” “Oh yeah, you like that? … I’m coming, oh, I’m coming!”–reminded us anew of the limitations of performance and the distractibility of both performer and audience. Once all the script pages had fallen, one by one, to the floor, Gutierrez laboriously peeled their oversized t-shirt off, revealing two midriff peasant shirts beneath, and started the music–loud, jagged beats. They descended to the floor, pulled down the underwear, and aerobicized in unison, bellies and buttocks unfettered. Gutierrez called out cues: “Spin! Shimmy! Ready for jetés?!” They leapt like cheerleaders, cavorted like bacchanals, froze like hieroglyphs, and collapsed into the audience: “Collapse! … Collapse for eight more!” His commands gave voice to other problems with dancing: it’s unrelenting, it’s perfectionistic, it will work you hard without regard for your feelings. Gutierrez hefted Champlin into the air with a grunt and spun him around messily before dumping him back to the ground. They announced the end and walked back to the wings. The crowd’s applause was grateful and joyous, but tired–we had laughed and shouted with them, but we had also sweated and shuddered; all of us had been through the ringer.
Fleisher’s initial claim: “The theme of the evening is action; entertainment, naturally, but what we really want you to do is take advantage of all the materials and ideas we brought here for you tonight…” applied unevenly to the gamut of acts, some of whom dealt directly with this year’s election and some of whom barely grazed the political. But in the spirit of loving everybody, and of acting now in some generous way, the whole house moved.
April Greene, the Rail's dance editor, lives, writes, and bikes in Brooklyn.