Remy Charlip was a great person, an innovative writer of children’s books, an early member of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (for which he designed costumes and sets), a founding member of the Paper Bag Players and, as the program quotes, “a queer Jewish man who spent much of his life and career in a time that is very different than today.”
For many years he was a good friend of mine and visited my house, my children and me on several occasions. We read his books often, told his stories and hung his wonderful print “Kitty Tango” to celebrated display.
Seth Eisen and his collaborators and performers, Paul Loper, Colin Creveling and Molly Shalken, have created a living, lively memorial to Remy. Using Remy’s own sketches, words and objects, they have created a biographical performance, which is engrossing and touching. From Remy’s Brooklyn boyhood (not so nice) to his San Francisco end (pretty good), his life is traced with the touching stories of what he produced (costumes, books, objects of all sorts, Air Mail dances) and the pathos of his feelings.
Creveling plays the young Remy, Loper the older. Dressed in similar costumes, they work through scene after scene, singing, dancing and story telling. My favorite events were the trio (with Molly Shalken) with texts from the Air Mail Dances, an ensemble portraying Remy’s way of dealing with stage fright. “I’ll do a bed dance, a breakfast dance, a shower dance, etc.” and then be ready to perform. In was engaging and well done. Also touching and important was the duet (Creveling and Loper) concerning Remy’s text “love me.” Some of this harkened back to his relationships, some good, some not so good, with Lou Harrison, Nick Cernovich, and Burt Supree. Songs by Remy, music by Harrison, Cage and others completed the range of this show’s warm, wonderful and touching stories.
Eisen interviewed many of Remy’s friends We heard them and saw countless photos and objects from the various stages of his life. Some were projected by video, some illustrated with puppets, some displayed on tables as Remy’s art life unfolded. Everything was brilliantly researched.
Eisen is to be congratulated and praised for this devoted presentation. Alas, at moments there was so much to see that it couldn’t all be seen and appreciated. Visits to the set might add to the wonder.
Performances continue through November 20 at Counterpulse.