Dixon Place, a mecca for LGBTQ culture in the quickly gentrifying Lower East Side, is offering a return of the campy play, The Village! A Disco Daydream, written by Nora Burns, a dizzy, sometimes sad, revisit to the pre-AIDS seventies, an era of sexy go-go dancers, sugar daddies, hunky hustlers and eager newbies. First produced last fall, its popularity propelled this current revival.
Steven Hammel’s versatile art deco discotheque set morphs into the over-decorated West Village apartment of Old George (Chuck Blasius, turning this very understanding sugar daddy into the calm center of a frenzied production) where the hunky, Scottish accented rent boy Trade, a well-cast, well-built Antony Cherrie, is ensconced as a sex object. He has the freedom to bring his latest sexual conquests into George’s flat. The current pickup is NYU student Steven (a delightfully blissed out Jack Bartholet), who quickly falls for Trade.
Steven learns the ropes of gay life—at least the West Village variety—very quickly as Trade’s buddies show up to gossip and kvetch: Lisa (a lovely, warm Ashley Chavonne), a young singer with addiction issues; Petey (Eileen Dover, quite wonderful), the wise-cracking, but insecure sort of trans character; and the neighbor, Jason (Antwon LeMonte, wide-eyed and sweet).
Two lithe, nearly naked dancers (Valton Jackson and Richard JMV, both eye candy) gambol uninhibitedly all over the stage like a wordless Greek Chorus. Also holding The Village! together is the sardonic Stage Manager played with wit and a wink by Grace Chase in her glitzy outfit (perfect period costumes by Paul Alexander) as she sashays about moving the show from scene to scene.
Some of the humor is on the dark side, particularly in the character of Junkie Jane who is mostly mute, her head sagging, long hair covering her face holding drooping maracas in her limp hands. That she is played by the playwright, Nora Burns, a fine performer in her own right, helps mitigate the slight cringe-worthiness of her character.
This is camp humor with a heart, although sometimes Burns works hard to camouflage the warmer emotions with layers of bitchiness and suggestiveness, all accompanied by lots of period music curated by Robin Carrigan who also provided the bumping and grinding disco choreography.
There’s even a reference to Thornton Wilder’s Our Town where a sudden trip to the future, 1993 to be exact, causes a character to meditate, via a funny ballet, on one happy day in his past.
Adam Pivirotto has directed with an eye to pleasing his very specific audience who seem to be divided between those old enough to understand all the period references and those taking it all in as an entertaining bit of colorfully presented history.
It’s sad to contemplate that some of these exuberant characters might be felled by AIDS in the coming decade, but this snapshot of a good time has its messy charms both as an entertainment and a microcosmic look at West Village gay life in 1979.
The Village! A Disco Daydream (return engagement: June 1- 22, 2023)
Dixon Place, 161A Chrystie Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.DixonPlace.org
Running time: one hour without an intermission