First Nighter: The Nora York-Jerry Kearns Double-Barreled Love Fest, a John Partrick Shanley Revival

The live performance part occurred July 29 at Joe's Pub, where Nora York--who's appeared at the venue every three or four months for several years as well as at any number of other prestigious arenas--charged the air with enough electricity to power the entire East coast.
07/30/2015 06:39 pm ET Updated Jul 30, 2016

The event is unique, at least as far as my brain wracking is taking me. It's the joint cabaret (alt-cabaret?)/gallery enterprise called Diva's Song, produced by gallery owner Mike Weiss.

The live performance part occurred July 29 at Joe's Pub, where Nora York--who's appeared at the venue every three or four months for several years as well as at any number of other prestigious arenas--charged the air with enough electricity to power the entire East coast. The Mike Weiss Gallery part is supplied by Jerry Kearns and his succinct graphic-comic wall displays following the tale of a Tosca-like 1940s singer and her avenging (cow)boyfriend Sugar.

The beauty part is that York and Kearns are married. The collaboration is how they've chosen to deal with her recent cancer diagnosis. As Tosca sings--and both York and Kearns believe about themselves--"I've lived by art, I've lived by love." They've put their work where their convictions are. The two-pronged exhibit is impressive proof of their urgent purpose.

Whereas Kearns's contribution to this exciting and touching marital undertaking is on view until August 22, York's may be only a one-night affair. (No repeat is announced at the moment.) But no matter how short the run, it was indelible for those present, all of whom were aware of York's condition.

The first thing to be said about that is the lack of any physical evidence that the tall and lanky York was less that the hyperkinetic, completely committed artist she's always been, as she's built an ardent following without breaking through to the even bigger following she's always deserved.

Looking like a priestess in a calf-length, straight-lined, blue jacket over a white tunic over another white gown and with her usually long hair cropped short and spiky, she opened with a song she and longtime music director Jamie Lawrence wrote for their "Water Water Everywhere" project. It's appropriately called "Energy," and in it she manages to refer to elements instantly conjuring--but never explicitly mentioning--Einstein's e=mc squared hypothesis.

Whether or not she intends the reference, she indicates that the themes she has habitually pursued are profound ones--time, reality versus illusion, love, death. Then she got around to them all repeatedly without ever becoming didactic but always remaining rhythmic, melodic and exhilarating. The songs she reprised from her career so far included Jerry-oriented ode "Crazy LOVE," the 9/11-inspired upbeat "Another Day," "Vissi d'arte" (with tenor John McVeigh) and her signature song, the immensely irresistible 'What I Want."

Calling the show a party, although it was as much a love fest as anything else, she was backed by her Amazing Band (Jamie Lawrence at piano and synthesizer, Dave Hofstra on bass, Peter Grant on drums, Sherryl Marshall on backup vocals and Jack Lawrence on guitar and in for the absent Steve Tarshis). Supplementing them besides McVeigh were Dorothy Lawson on cello, Claire Daly on baritone sax, brother Andrew Schwartz on bassoon, Flip Scipio on guitar and, reading a T. S. Eliot poem, Patricia Elliott. To a man and woman they were ebullient.

Though York presumably meant to close with the adored "What I Want," the crowd demanded an encore, of course. She obliged with the Rolling Stones's "Ruby Tuesday" (earlier she'd given her all to "I Can't Get No Satisfaction"), which ends, perhaps even more significantly this time, with the sentiment, "You're going to miss me." (No missing her, however, at this concert footage website.)

York has intoned that Stones classic over the years, but the potential added meaning couldn't have been lost on the audience, nor was the emotion she unleashed on her beg-off number, Stephen Foster's heart-breaking "Hard Times Come Again No More."

Kearns's works are so tied in with York's "Vissi d'arte, vissi d'amour" ethos that one of the unbounded panels on Weiss's gallery walls and featuring the Barbara Stanwyck-bewigged York stand-in has this dialogue: "I've lived my life for art. I lived for love. I lived for joy, to ease breaking hearts with my song."

As the story fills in with Sugar's ridding the pair of a villain--involved are kicks, a knife and a cartoon pistol (on the gallery floor)--the York-Kearns commitment to art and love is confirmed. Unmistakably, there's another motive underscored: the battle against negative forces, a battle now echoing the one they're currently waging.

Reporting her diagnosis from the stage, York asks what artists do when confronted with this menace and answers, "You make art." Kearns and she certainly have.

*****

Turning the painfully real into cartoon is curiously enough also taking place with the revival of John Patrick Shanley's early play (and one of his, or anyone's, best titles), The Dreamer Examines His Pillow. It's being presented at The Flea by The Attic Theatre Company.

Another way of looking at the gritty three-hander is as a nasty fairy tale about love, something the brothers Grimm might have thought up on a particularly cynical day.

While contemplating his refrigerator for nothing better to do, Tommy (Shane Patrick Kearns) is interrupted by ex-girlfriend Donna (Lauren Nicole Cipoletti). She barges through Tommy's squalid apartment door (which oddly opens out rather than in) to upbraid him for putting the moves on her younger sister, Mona.

Quickly revealed is that Tommy still has the hots for Donna and she still has the hots for him. While they alternate between grabbing each other with passion and attacking each other with equal antagonistic passion, they're shown as belonging to the ubiquitous can't-live-with-him/her-can't-live-without-him/her couples population.

Threatening to send her father to beat Tommy up unless he swears off Mona, Donna leaves to fire up Dad (Dennis Parlato). In a second scene taking place on Julia Moulin-Mérat's somewhat altered set, she succeeds in coaxing the onetime painter into doing her bidding. Which leads to the third scene, where Dad drops in on Tommy, who still can't get enough of his refrigerator. Dad applies psychic, if not physical, pressure right up to and through the rampaging Donna's arrival in a wedding gown.

Since Laura Braza directs Cipoletti and Kearns to bark at each other as if what they're saying is contained in comic book dialogue balloons, she presents a more heightened reality than Shanley may intend, but there's a quality to the otherwise kitchen-sink (refrigerator-door?) drama that makes the Tommy-Donna shouting match genuinely appealing.