To celebrate its 10th anniversary in grand style, queer theater troupe Theatre Askew is reviving interest in iconoclastic ancestor Adah Isaacs Menken—AKA Ada Bertha Théodore, Ada C. McCordin, and Dolores Adios Fuertes—by presenting Trav S.D.’s new “Horseplay: or, The Fickle Mistress, a Protean Picaresque,” directed by Elyse Singer, at LaMaMa’s Ellen Stewart Theatre through March 1, with Molly Pope in a thrilling tour-de-force as blithely transgressive, notoriously controversial, chameleon-like mid-19th century figure Menken, persuasively conveying her contradictory identities, her involvement with so many male and female lovers, her triumphs and tribulations and, as she endlessly reinvents herself, her efforts as actor, equestrian, and poet, whose short life encompassed, variously, Jewish, Irish, French, African-American, Southern belle, bigamist, bohemian, drag king, and dominatrix selves. Few beside Pope could successfully put across a deliciously mangled “To be or not to be,” when she’s playing Lady Macbeth; smokily seductive “Comin’ through the Rye” in a low dive; dramatic curtain speech as Cossack general Mazeppa, scantily clad, strapped to a (carousel) horse, and about to ascend a papier-mâché mountain; original songs, by Music Director William TN Hall, with lyrics by the playwright, one in the style of Lady Gaga, limning “My Pony Tale (Dada, ooh la la),” another a romanza to Native American maiden Laurelack, all reminding what a Broadway-style belter Pope can be; and an oddball, high-pitched “Camptown Races.”
Numerous notables touched Menken’s life and portraying them with versatility and flair are Ridiculous Theatrical Company veteran Everett Quinton as George Sand, also as boxing trainer Jim Cusick; Askew Artistic Director Tim Cusack as an Algernon Swinburne into S&M, also as Walt Whitman and Alexander Menken, poet, pickle scion and—oy!—Adah’s first husband; Mark St. Cyr as John C. Heenan, Adah’s well-built, bare-chested champion boxer second husband, who speaks in pidgin Gaelic, also as Adah’s down-home grandmother; Chuck Montgomery as Frank Queen, Adah’s long-suffering manager, also as poet Gabriel Dante Rossetti; Jan Leslie Harding as cross-dressing writer and “Queen of Bohemia” Ada Clare, also as an Ohio rabbi; and Tiffany Abercrombie, jolly good as a stuffed-shirt Victorian poet William Morris, also as Alexandre Dumas père, young Adah, and Heenan’s new lady love. Sets are by Liz Toonkel, costumes by Becky Hubbert, choreography by Antonio Brown, fight direction by Nathan DeCoux, and lighting by Deborah Constantine.
The Ellen Stewart Theatre is located at 66 East Fourth Street, between Second Avenue and the Bowery. “Horseplay” opened on February 12 and the special Presidents Day performance, on February 16, is discussed here. Remaining performances take place from Wednesday to Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m. For tickets, priced at $18, $13 for students and seniors, with 10 tickets at $10 available, in advance, for each performance, visit www.lamama.org
or telephone 646/430-5374.