There have been no shortage of ghosts, vampires, monsters and ghouls who have walked the boards of La MaMa’s stages. Here are just a few of La MaMa’s spookier productions, in honor of the holiday.
Nosferatu was a production of Ping Chong and Company; “an interdisciplinary performance piece that combines elements of F.W. Murnau’s 1922 classic vampire film and original text, choreography, sound and mask work. The production examines Reagan-era America at the dawn of the AIDS epidemic. Set in a modern upscale apartment, Nosferatu portrays the lives of a shallow, affluent couple and their friends who are unaware of the changing world around them.”pingchong.org Praised as “theatrical magic on the highest level” by critic Bert Wechsler, Nosferatu shares similarities with Edgar Allan Poe’s Masque of the Red Death as both use horror as a genre to explore the disquieting image of decadent revelers who celebrate in the midst of a plague. Nosferatu was staged twice at La MaMa, once in 1985, and again in 1991.
From vampires, to ghosts! Based on extensive research done by writer and director Ozzie Rodriguez, Alma, the Ghost of Spring Street tells the story of the Manhattan Well Murder case. Drowned in a well located at 129 Spring Street in Manhattan, Alma (or Elma) Sands’ ghost has been said to haunt Spring Street, appearing as a lady in white to many over the years. This production also included the story of the dramatic trial that followed Alma’s death. The accused was supposedly her lover, a man named Levi Weeks who, thanks to the connections held by his wealthy brother Ezra Weeks, landed Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr as his lawyers. Burr, however, owned the company that held the well in which Alma was drowned, and there were many accusations of conflict of interest and bias when Hamilton and Burr successfully got Weeks acquitted. Even more dramatically, it’s said that Alma’s cousin Catherine Ring cursed Alexander Hamilton as he left the courthouse, shouting, “If thee dies a natural death, I shall think there is no justice in heaven!” And we all know how Hamilton died. Burr didn’t fare much better. He was ostracized after killing Hamilton, tried for treason, lost his daughter to cancer, and died broke in a boarding house. The judge who presided over the case also disappeared mysteriously. The well itself still exists as a remnant, standing anachronistically in the back of the clothing store that now inhabits 129 Spring Street.
After a ghost story, we’re going to return to vampires! Carmilla, first produced at La MaMa in 1970, and many times since then, was written and directed by Wilford Leach and based on the 1872 gothic novella by Sheridan le Fanu, an Irish author famous for his ghost stories. Leach created a chamber opera from the novella, telling the story of Laura, the teenaged protagonist and narrator, who receives the mysterious Carmilla as a guest after her carriage crashes in the countryside near the estate of Laura’s father. The two girls become very intimate, and it is slowly revealed that Carmilla is, in fact, a vampire who has been draining the life out of Laura. With all the action taking place on the unique love seat seen in the photo above, the chorus emerging through the loveseat, and a surrealist film created for the show projected on the wall behind the actors, Carmilla is an eerie and suspenseful story.
For those looking for something weird and fun to do for Halloween, there was always Tom Murrin’s Alien Comic series, which had holiday specials for Christmas, April Fool’s, and Mother’s Day as well. Murrin was one of La MaMa’s early playwrights and wrote important plays like Cock-Strong, Son of Cock-Strong, Hung, and Roommates, some of which were staged by John Vaccaro and Playhouse of the Ridiculous. Alien Comic was a stage name of Murrin’s, as was “Tom Trash”, which spoke to his habit of using found objects in his frenetic experimental performances; “The shows were often determined by the detritus he picked up on the street; hence the early stage name Tom Trash. A broken umbrella might become an antenna to listen in on another world. A dish drainer might suggest a prison cell. He made masks and other types of headgear — some elaborate, some consisting of simple, suggestive drawings on cardboard — and whipped them on and off with breathless abandon in performances.”New York Times, 2012 The above programs are from his Halloween shows at La MaMa, running from 1990 to 1993. Artists like Stuart Sherman, Joey Arias, and the Blue Man Group joined Murrin in celebrating the holiday. Equal parts spooky, absurd, sexy, and strange, the Alien Comic hosted shows full of comedy, song, and dance, ensuring that Halloween at La MaMa would always be worth the ticket.