Not all fancy benefit performances open with a casually-dressed Eric Bogosian nursing a Brooklyn Lager and proclaiming in a deep drawl to the cocktail-clutching audience, “I’ve got a long, thick, well-shaped prick,” but Performance Space 122 isn’t your typical theater.
PS122 has been a staple of the East Village for many years, cultivating and welcoming contemporary performance of all sorts since its founding in an abandoned public school building in 1980. Artists like Bogosian, John Leguizamo, Young Jean Lee, Justin Vivian Bond, Richard Maxwell and Annie Dorsen all got their start there.
They’ve been without an official home since 2013 due to a City-led gut renovation of their building. As they prepare to reopen in the coming months, they’ve been raising funds to help support their reconstruction, planning, and first two years of programming through their “capacity campaign,” entitled Give Performance Space.
The benefit performance this past Monday night, featuring selections from Bogosian’s 100 Monologues performed by an array of choice talent in addition to Bogosian himself, took place in the swanky Players Club, a Gothic Revival-style “private social club” on Gramercy Park. It was founded in 1888 by actor Edwin Booth (yes, the one with the infamous assassin brother) for “the promotion of social intercourse between the representative members of the dramatic profession and the kindred professions of literature, painting, sculpture and music, and the patrons of the arts.” The historic building was filled with dark wood and countless painted portraits, and if there wasn’t that mellow indie rock preshow music playing and smartphones aglow you’d think you’d stepped into another time. Either way, it was enlightening to realize how many men back then had mustaches.
After Bogosian’s piece came Gaby Hoffmann, delivering a delightfully mortifying monologue about an audition that just won’t seem to end. Then came David Cale, with a tale of posing as an aristocrat. “Life is good, if you’re willing to work at it,” he says, after sneaking his way into the Carlyle Hotel and covering his entire body with shaving cream.
In the midst of it all, PS122’s artistic director Vallejo Gantner came up to say some words. “PS122 has become a globally recognized presenter and producer of contemporary performance in every discipline. The artists who have come through our doors have been commercially successful, political, intellectually and physically challenging, artistically challenging… Sometimes, they’ve just been downright weird.”
“This is going to launch us into a future where PS122 returns as a kind of beating, bravely-experimental heart in the middle of New York City’s creative culture. It will help us navigate our way back home,” he continued. He then slyly announced that he had unearthed an old diary of his that he would read to the crowd, a la Bogosian. It was, of course, a Bogosian monologue in disguise, but the lead-in was expertly executed and unless you were familiar with his work you wouldn’t have even known.
Following that was Marin Ireland in a dynamite several minutes as a passionate immigrant diner manager, and Orange Is The New Black’s Michael Chernus as a bottle-collecting homeless man. Opportunities to acknowledge the building they were in were not missed, as both Chernus and the vivacious Jennifer Tilly’s monologues had them singing the praises of wood. Danny Mastrogiorgio followed with a long and compelling speech as a deadbeat dad who you simultaneously hated and pitied.
The show’s executive producer was actor and producer Anson Mount, who got to know PS122 through serving as a volunteer usher years ago. He performed the final monologue of the night.
Though the evening was intimate and relatively short, it was a true treat to see this group of actors take on Bogosian’s rousing monologues with true gusto, effortlessly transforming into someone else before they even started speaking. Doubly interesting was that Bogosian largely does not write characters who would ever attend a private social club, but deals mainly in the working-class, the offbeat, those who exist on the fringes. “Monologues are all around us. Every week you heard hundreds of monologues, even if you’re probably not thinking of them as monologues,” Bogosian said. Placing those voices in a building for the elite in a way further amplifies them, but there’s something a tad eerie about realizing that these stories, inspired by overheard mumblings in bars and workshopped on small avant-garde stages (like PS122 in its early years) are now being told by successful performers to an audience with enough money to attend benefit performances to keep those avant-garde stages going.
The evening was directed by Jo Bonney, who has directed most of Bogosian’s work as well as plays by Alan Ball, Suzan-Lori Parks, Anna Deveare Smith, and more at places like The Public Theater, New York Theater Workshop, and Classic Stage Company. The two are also married.
All proceeds from the evening will benefit the theater’s Give Performance Space campaign. The newly renovated building is set to reopen in Summer 2016.
For more information on PS122 and their Give Performance Space campaign, visit them online.
The full collection of Bogosian’s recently filmed ‘100 Monologues,’ including many performed in this evening, can be viewed here.