Thursday, March 20, 2014

Beautiful, beastly and renegade: Muz and Fraser at Abrons

Julie Atlas Muz as Beauty
At rear, Mat Fraser as The Beast,
flanked by Jonny Dixon (l) and Jess Mabel Jones
(photo by Sin Bozkurt)
Mat Fraser
with puppeteers Dixon and Jones
(photo by Sheila Burnett)
To be sure, the Playhouse stage at Abrons Arts Center is set up for a fairy tale--here, Beauty and the Beast--with an ornate, antique-y, rose-strewn set drenched in crimson light and gently breathing mist. And so, on a rainy evening perfect for storytelling, begins not one but two uncommon love stories. The familiar one we came for--in which a lovely daughter, having staved off family disaster by agreeing to go away to live in a beast-man's castle--gets charmingly, seamlessly interwoven with real-life details about the show's charismatic stars, Julie Atlas Muz and Mat Fraser.

Muz, former beauty queen and a multi-talented artist best-known for neo-burlesque, and Fraser, a British actor, writer and rock musician, are a married couple who met and fell in love when they were Coney Island sideshow performers and married to other people. Fraser, whose mom took Thalidomide for morning sickness, has the congenital deformation phocomelia with, in his case, missing forearms and thumbs. When these two artists dreamed up a collaborative project, "Beauty and the Beast" immediately sprung to mind. But because they are who they are--both kickass provocateurs, one whose visible disability has long been integral to his art--this "Beauty and the Beast" would have to be a "Beauty and the Beast" like no other.

And so it is.

A very sexy "Beauty and the Beast," indeed, with frequent, matter-of-fact nudity, erotic food play and joyous sexual simulation where even paper puppets get it on. And a hilarious "Beauty and the Beast" in which Muz's sharp talent for comedy--along with Jonny Dixon and Jess Mabel Jones's skillful, innovative puppetry--give extra dimension and brightness to every scene. And a tender "Beauty and the Beast" which, without hesitation, welcomes us into the love that this couple shares. I don't believe I have ever seen this much love (genuine love) in a work on stage.

So, if you think all that might be too much to handle, stay home...or, go anyway, take a chance and see if it changes you.

Directed by Phelim McDermott (Satyagraha, Shockheaded Peter) of the British theater troupe, Improbable

Beauty and the Beast runs through March 30. For information and tickets, click here.

The Playhouse
Abrons Arts Center
466 Grand Street (at Pitt Street), Manhattan


Of related interest

Access All Areas--Live Art & Disability (NYC edition), a free, all-day event looking at some of the radical approaches to the representation of disability by contemporary performance artists.

March 29, 10-6pm at Abrons Arts Center

For information, click here.

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