Performance artist Annie Lanzillotto begins her wide-ranging meditation on the changing face of New York by going way back, riffing on the geological structure of Manhattan Island and passing around samples of glittering rock for the audience to touch, smell, and press to their foreheads. From there she evokes the city's often baffling changes with a mix of social history and personal recollections, including her ongoing cancer treatments, her youthful forays into lesbian clubs named after portions of the female anatomy, and, most significantly, her recent eviction from her Manhattan apartment. Impressively enough, she also bench-presses two traffic lights.
It's a lot of territory to cover in a performance lasting just over an hour — not counting the unique audience-participation bit at the end, in which Lanzillotto leads audience members around the block to the corner of Prince and Elizabeth streets and encourages them to perch on a mailbox and tell their New York stories. At times the performance can seem like a series of digressions with no discernible center, but by the end you realize that there may be no better way to evoke the city's kaleidoscopic, sometimes disorienting shifts in character. Certainly no commentary on gentrification has ever had a more appropriate setting. Across the street from the Dixon Place performance space, standing cheek by jowl, are the boarded-up remains of the Sunshine Hotel (once the Bowery's most notorious flophouse) and the New Museum, which opened in 2007 — a glitzy structure whose presence on the block is, as Raymond Chandler would say, about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food cake.
With a friendly, down-to-earth butch-dyke persona and an outrageous Bronx accent the like of which is seldom heard nowadays, Lanzillotto comes off like a female Bowery Boy with a poetic bent. A highly expressive, natural-born performer, her essentially positive vision is shot through with the melancholy realization that her mental map of the city no longer corresponds to the real thing — and that her hometown is no longer a place where struggling creative people can afford to live.
Presented by and at Dixon Place,
258 Bowery, NYC.
June 19-July 5. Thu.-Sat., 8 p.m. (Fri., July 4, 7 p.m.)
(212) 352-3101 or (866) 811-4111 or www.theatermania.com or www.dixonplace.org.