Banned in Paris, a hit in London, 'Les Parents' will move to New York

October 14, 1994|By Donald G. McNeil Jr. | Donald G. McNeil Jr.,New York Times News Service

A play that critics who saw it in London think has the power to be the literary avenging angel of the season is definitely headed for Broadway. And a performance artist who is the newest demon of the theater-oriented religious right is headed for PS 122 in the East Village soon.

The first is the current London staging of Jean Cocteau's 1938 play "Les Parents Terribles." It was described by Vincent Canby in June as "a seamlessly constructed marvel of contradictions, a boulevard farce about incest, about a family of dangerous innocents living in hermetically sealed upper-bourgeois squalor."

This very dysfunctional family is forced out into the light when the son, effectively jilting his lie-a-bed mother, announces plans to marry an artist. His father, who spends his time in a closet designing an underwater machine gun, realizes that his son's intended is his own mistress.

The first production was banned as "prejudicial to morality and public order" -- in Paris, yet. On April 27, the same team that produced "Passion" -- the Shubert Organization, Roger Berlind, Scott Rudin and Capital Cities/ABC -- will open "Les Parents" at the Ethel Barrymore Theater.

"It'll be cut down a bit, to 2 1/2 hours instead of three," Marvin A. Krauss, the $1.4 million show's general manager, said yesterday.

A show that actually suggests viewer discretion is Ron Athey's "Four Scenes in a Harsh Life," at P.S. 122 from Oct. 27 to Oct. 30. Mr. Athey, who calls himself a ritualist, a former drug addict and recovering Pentecostal preacher, burst into the center of controversy in March.

At a cabaret performance before 100 people in Minneapolis, he cut designs into a friend with a scalpel, then blotted the blood with paper towels and suspended them above the audience.

A local newspaper article about the event said $150 from the National Endowment for the Arts helped underwrite the show and erroneously suggested that HIV-positive blood dripped down. The Christian Action Network issued a "declaration of war," a furor erupted, and in July the Senate voted to cut the endowment's budget 5 percent in fiscal 1995.

*

Hmmh! Hmmh! The fists fly under the vaulted ceiling of the Joseph Papp Public Theater, but they miss by millimeters. The noise is the air rushing from the fighters' noses as they jab.

For a few seconds, a conga drummer kicks in on a wooden box, warming up, timing his blows to the fighters'. The combination works: the fight rehearsal for "Blade to the Heat" is alarmingly like the real thing but without the blood. Usually.

"Pivot . . . don't turn your back. Now left uppercut, and right. Here, like this." A lithe man in a showy black eye patch and black snakeskin cowboy boots crouches to demonstrate. Everyone leans forward to listen. Michael (The Silk) Olajide Jr. can barely be heard.

This is a man Teddy Roosevelt would have loved: speak softly and carry a middleweight title (former Canadian champion). Lose an eye fighting Tommy Hearns. Create "aeroboxing," an exercise program at fancy health clubs. Then make your debut as a fight choreographer in a play directed by George C. Wolfe that opens the Public's season this year.

Oliver Mayer's "Blade to the Heat" is set in the Hispanic boxing world of the 1950s and is inspired by the 1962 Peret-Griffith fight, still held in awe by boxing fans barely born then: Benny (Kid) Peret taunted Emile Griffith at the weigh-in, calling him a homosexual. A little while later, in the ring, Griffith beat him to death.

Olajide's job is to try to convey the fury of 12 rounds in 45 seconds. His first step was to take actors Paul Calderon, Kamar de los Reyes and Nelson Vasquez to his father's Kingsway Gym in Manhattan and let them spar till they drew blood. "They realized what it's like to get hit," he said. "So they get a respect for pugilism."

In truth, he said, the actors knew the fight game and already had styles that matched their roles. "Paul, who's the champion, has that smooth veteran style, doesn't waste any punches. I just tried to accentuate that. Nelson throws caution to the wind, like a young [Roberto] Duran. With Camar, it was just building his intensity, getting him to throw a lot of punches, like a kid anxious for the title."

Who takes the belt? Previews will begin Tuesday.

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