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Virgo Star

An engaging multimedia performance piece presenting a queer perspective on the American Old West film genre through song, dance, video and spoken word.

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Chris Riffle in a scene from Pioneer Go East Collective’s production of “Virgo Star” at La MaMa’s Downstairs Lounge (Photo credit: Carlos Cardena)

Darryl Reilly

Darryl Reilly, Critic

Hank Williams is channeled by the lanky, charming and boyish Chris Riffle wearing jeans and a cowboy hat, playing guitar and wonderfully singing original country music-style songs at the beginning and end of the performance piece Virgo Star. It’s structured as an hour of disjointed vignettes comprised of spoken word and dance sequences centered on the theme of the American Old West film genre with a queer sensibility.

Following a comically exaggerated shootout, the two men make out. A cowgirl and a Mexican woman get together. At one point performers blindfold audience members for a brief bit. There’s a hula-hoop dance number. Monologues detailing homophobia, racism and gay bashing are enacted. It’s all cryptic, edgy and well-executed entertainment for devotees of non-traditional theater.

Alessandro Magania and Daniel Diaz (with Anabella Lenzu seated in back) in a scene from Pioneer Go East Collective’s production of “Virgo Star” at La MaMa’s Downstairs Lounge (Photo credit: Jon Burklund/Zanni Productions)

The cast of Daniel Diaz, Anabella Lenzu, Bree Breeden and Alessandro Magania are all appealing and have their shining moments. An integral inspiration is avant-garde arts fixture Agosto Machado. Mr. Machado’s autobiographical recollections about New York City gay life pre-Stonewall are interwoven as recited and lip-synched monologues. Machado appears at the curtain call which is followed by singing and mingling.

The 15 minute pre-show has the performers milling about in Diaz’s jeans, cowboy hats and other Western paraphernalia (including a fabulous sequined jacket) on the lower level of La MaMa as the audience arrives. Some offer greetings and others are interacting with each other and videoing each other. That’s broadcast on a screen in the main three-sided performance space to the accompaniment of 1970’s disco songs. In a smaller room video of two men conversing and mildly carrying on intimately is shown, while later footage of John Wayne is intercut. This prelude gets Virgo Star off to an intriguing start.

Anabella Lenzu and Bree Breeden in a scene from Pioneer Go East Collective’s production of “Virgo Star” at La MaMa’s Downstairs Lounge (Photo credit: Carlos Cardena)

Writer Gian Marco Riccardo Lo Forte has crafted a fitting framework to enigmatically explore his subject through lightheartedness and seriousness. Mr. Lo Forte’s direction has momentum and visual variety. Beth Graczyk’s choreography for the same sex couplings is accomplished and witty. Shirtless males and boisterous females square dance at times and eroticism abounds.

The technical contributions of cinematographer Jon Burklund, video designer Hao Bai, production and lighting designer Philip Treviño and technical and design director Mark Tambella are all high-caliber. Gavin Price’s sound design is most atmospheric with its sounds of cows, rain, thunder, gunshots and wind, conjuring up the imaginary sight of tumbleweeds.

Daniel Diaz and Alessandro Magania in a scene from Pioneer Go East Collective’s production of “Virgo Star” at La MaMa’s Downstairs Lounge (Photo credit: Carlos Cardena)

Virgo Star is presented by Pioneers Go East Collective. This consortium of performance artists was founded in 2010 and among their aims is “to celebrate LGBTQ and Feminist stories.” That’s certainly achieved by this engaging and provocative extravaganza.

Virgo Star (through December 1, 2019)

Pioneers Go East Collective

La MaMa’s Downstairs Lounge, 66 East 4th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.pionnersgoeast.org

Running time: 75 minutes without an intermission

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Darryl Reilly
About Darryl Reilly (696 Articles)
A native New Yorker, Darryl Reilly graduated from NYU with a BFA in Cinema Studies. For the Broadway League, (formerly The League of American Theatres and Producers) he developed, and for five years conducted their Broadway Open House Tours, which took visitors through The Theatre District and into several Broadway theaters. He contributed to Broadway Musicals Show by Show: Sixth Edition (Applause Books). Since 2013, he has reviewed theater, cabaret, and concerts for Theaterscene.net.

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