Company XIV’s ‘Queen of Hearts.’ (Photo: Philip Van Nostrand)
By Bobby McGuire
Queen of Hearts and Company XIV’s artistic director Austin McCormick have given Manhattanites yet another reason to feel less hip than their neighbors across the river.
Gothamites eager for a taste of Belle Époque bawdiness needn’t wait until June when previews for the eagerly awaited stage adaptation of Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge begins previews on the Great White Way. All of the salaciousness of the famed Parisian haunt has been hiding in plain sight in Company XIV’s outer borough Bushwick warehouse theatre for six months.
The troupe has been delighting New York audiences with their inimitable blend of cirque, burlesque and neo-baroque theater dance pieces for years. And while Mr. McCormick has rightfully earned plaudits for his sexy gender-bending re-imagining of beloved classic ballets in Nutcracker Rouge and Cinderella, something feels particularly perfect this go-around with his twist on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Mr. McCormick and his company have tapped into the contradictions of Carroll’s masterpiece in an experience that extends beyond the fourth wall and five senses where opulent and derelict, masculine, feminine, and androgynous, classic and modern, high-brow and glitter gutter all simultaneously exist. Apropos of the material, Company XIV transports the audience into a world that is strange, exciting, and more than a little naughty.
As the title suggests, the evening plays on familiar literary tropes from Carroll’s Alice series. Mr. McCormick (like underground auteurs Warhol and Waters) has assembled a company of “superstar” performers, each with their own very unique talents. Like previous Company XIV pieces, Queen of Hearts is built around these talents.
As Alice, sultry songstress LEXXE offers up enough sexual subtext to make Bruno Bettelheim blush. Similarly, as the White Rabbit, Michael Cunio pulsates with actions that rabbits are best-known for doing. Contortionist Lilin Lace makes her entrance as the Caterpillar/Butterfly in pupal latex form before huffing the famed insect’s smoke with her feet. Identical twins Nicholas and Ross Katen performing a flawless mirror version of a classic burlesque half-and-half (half male/half female) act as Tweedles Dee and Dum. Other highlights include Laszlo Major’s “Drink Me” pole dance, Storm Marrero’s diva turn as The Queen of Hearts and ballet dancer Ryan Redmond’s impossibly sexy Cheshire Cat.
Highest stage honors for the evening go to quadruple threat Marcy Richardson as The Mad Hatter whose belting, comedic and dance chops become eclipsed by her haunting rendition of Tears for Fears’ classic “Mad World,” which she performs while spinning on a rig over the audience’s heads.
Resident designer Zane Pihlström has created a feast for the eyes with period-inspired stagecraft that includes moving ground rows of waves and clothes cleverly made with reclaimed materials — all evocatively illuminated by lighting designer Jeanette Yew’s decorative and functioning footlights and chandeliers.
The gamble to permanently set up camp in Bushwick has paid off for this very distinct troupe of artists. Within the walls of their new haunt, they’ve been able to create a (for the moment) tourist and Kardashian-free safe space that is equal parts Weimar Berlin, Moulin Rouge, Prohibition-era speakeasy, and Versailles back room. For those reluctant to travel, rest assured. Company XIV’s Queen of Hearts is a rabbit hole worth taking a few subways to visit.
Queen of Hearts
383 Troutman Street, Bushwick, Brooklyn
Through May 19
Bobby McGuire is the backstage veteran of nine Broadway shows and national tours. His post-showbiz life led him to work for Ogilvy and Mather, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and EDGE Media Network. He resides in Manhattan with two roommates and a Maltese named Nero.