Theatre Review: The Village! A Disco Daydream (Dixon Place, New York) ★★★★

Ever dodged a legion of hurtling luxury baby strollers on Bleecker Street, only to run into a gaggle of tourists taking selfies outside Carrie’s stoop on Perry, and dreamed of going back to Greenwich Village in the late 70s—during that fleeting era of queer liberation post-Stonewall and pre-AIDS—even just for one evening? Well, now you can, thanks to Nora Burns’ riotous comedy The Village! A Disco Daydream playing select dates until February 24th at Dixon Place on the Lower East Side, following a sold-out run there in October.

The intimate and versatile studio space proves the perfect venue for Burns to transform into her disco Tardis, destination 1979, the year that Burns herself moved to the city. Loosely based on Thornton Wilder’s 1938 play Our Town, Burns dedicates the piece to her friends “who went to that great disco in the sky before they got to finish their stories”.

Richard JMV, Antony Cherrie and Valton Jackson (center, L-R) and the cast of The Village! A Disco Daydream. Photo credit: Photos by Eric McNatt.

Even before the show begins, a duo of fabulous hot pant clad go-gos, Cade and Jock (Richard JMV and Valton Jackson), wander through the auditorium, like gay nightclub candy stripers, offering up shots and suckers as they shake their groove thangs to the sounds of disco divas like the mighty Sylvester. The audience is already in the mood for dancing, shimmying in their seats—a few are even singing along—as the atmosphere of a late night at Studio 54 fills the air before the stage manager (Glace Chase) speaks directly to the audience to set the scene. As she contrasts the “dangerous, but sexy” Village of then with the hyper-gentrified one of today, she acknowledges it wasn’t all perfect; “there was racism, crime, economic collapse, and a coming plague”.

Antony Cherrie, Richard JMV and Eileen Dover. Photo credit: Photos by Eric McNatt.

It’s the morning after the night before when we meet hunky Scottish hustler, Trade (Antony Cherrie), who has fallen for the trick he picked up at the club; a preppy, wide-eyed, and very cute NYU student Steven (Jack Bartholet), who is crashed out on the day bed. They’re watched over by Old George (Chuck Blasius, bringing rich character work) who allows Trade to live in his apartment rent free, in return for copping the odd feel, companionship, and escorting him to fancy dinners and cultural events in the city.

George (positively geriatric in gay years at 63) is “from a generation of older queens who stereotypically didn’t like women unless they were royalty or tragic torch singers”, the stage manager pithily informs us, so it’s grudgingly that he endures the company of Trade’s fag hag Lisa (an effervescent Ashley Chavonne), who has a thing for off-duty drag queen Petey (Eileen Dover). Both visit as the day goes on, piecing together what happened the previous night, which leads to a showstoppingly energetic solo dance number by Chavonne and a devilishly detailed monologue that’s like a debouched Warhol diary entry, nimbly delivered by Ms Dover. They’re joined by their preeminently bent over double neighbor, Junkie Jane (a committed Burns in a hilarious, mischievously un-pc cameo), who stops by to borrow some sugar (a lighter and a spoon), and later by an alluring new resident in the building who has a big package to deliver—yes, gay adult movie style—Jason (a fantastic Antwon LeMonte).

Antony Cherrie, Jack Bartholet (center) and the cast of The Village! A Disco Daydream. Photo credit: Photos by Eric McNatt.

The Village! is a continually impressive piece of ensemble storytelling in which the audience are collaborators, invested in realizing the world of the show, guided by the magnetic Glace Chase who infuses the stage manager with cynicism, wistfulness, wisdom and a touch of theatre magic. She is particularly skilled at creating a palpable atmosphere with her movement and words. The entire talented cast brings Burns’ zingy script to life, pulling off the tricky balance of creating performances that are self-aware and heightened, yet nuanced and grounded enough to feel like fully-realized characters as we get to know and care for them, warts and all. As the adorable Trade, Cherrie is equally adept at selling the broad comedy, romance, and touching moments, with charisma to spare, along with a sexy Scottish accent and gorgeously toned tattooed body (it’s the late 70s, so it’s perfectly fine to objectify the actors). While Bartholet endearingly captures Steven’s joie de vivre; this is an unfamiliar world to him, but he’s not overly naïve or being taken advantage of and loving every moment. I’d love to see him play Brad in Rocky Horror. Eileen Dover is a delight, bringing a soulfulness to Petey as she nails those shady drag queen putdowns.

The cast of The Village! A Disco Daydream backstage. Photo credit: Peter Yesley.

Along with its killer 70s musical soundscape, another star of the show is Robin Carrigan’s choreography, which is not only a vital part of the storytelling, but a source of much of the comedy. There’s a lot of fun to be had with entrances, exits, and set changes too, that invariably have modest but inventive and effective theatrical flourishes, with wonderful work by the multi-tasking go-gos Richard JMV and Valton Jackson. Director Adam Pivirotto doesn’t miss a beat, while keeping things nice and pacey, and creating some stunning tableaux. Everything builds to the show’s poignant, beautifully executed climax which had me in tears. The show’s final section in particular is a window into what The Village! could become if it was developed into a full-scale production. There’s certainly plenty of potential here for long-running hit.

While Old George thinks back to how great things used to be in his day, he ponders: “Bars with red lights filled with boys who were hung / But was it really that great or was I just young?” For all the laughs, this is a thoughtful, meta meditation on nostalgia that shifts between us looking back from the present, to the characters looking forward from the past, playing knowingly with phrases that sound like anachronisms. Meanwhile, the stage manager provides lively interactive commentary on the language and behavior that went unremarked upon back then, but would need a trigger warning today.

The cast of The Village! A Disco Daydream backstage. Photo credit: Peter Yesley.

As we look back from 2023 at these characters just living their lives—”no regrets, no if onlys, no woulda coulda shouldas, just now and tonight and tomorrow, and love, so much love”—we urge them to make the most of it while it lasts, while they in turn urge us to live in the moment too.

One of the pleasures of The Village! is hearing the names of queer places now long gone as they’re resurrected for an instant; bars and clubs like Uncle Charlie’s, Rounds, Cowboys and Cowgirls, Crisco Disco, and the Anvil, stores like Joey Arias’ Fiorucci, as well as one that is thankfully still with us, Julius. Fizzy, fun, and surprisingly affecting, this is a show for those who were there the first time and those who wish they had been. A joyous, life-affirming hymn to Greenwich Village, a tribute to the far too many we lost too soon along the way, and a reminder to make the most of every New York minute.

By James Kleinmann

The Village! A Disco Daydream runs at Dixon Place until February 24th, 2023. For more details and to purchase tickets head to the Dixon Place website.

The cast of The Village! A Disco Daydream. Photo credit: Peter Yesley.

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