P.S. I Love You

Claudia La Rocco at P.S. 122’s Old School Benefit

Left: Karen Therese and Carey Corebett being married by Salley May. Right: Artists Neal Medlyn and Carmine Covelli. (All photos: Ves Pitts)

GIVEN THE MANY OUTRAGEOUS SPECTACLES that have occurred on the stages of Performance Space 122—the bodily liquids spilled, the obscenities flung about, the highly questionable (and perhaps illegal) acts—it’s funny to think that one of the most memorable events in the final days of its present incarnation was utterly conventional: a wedding ceremony.

The vows were exchanged Friday evening, installment two of the four-night Old School 122 Benefit, the culmination of P.S. 122’s thirtieth anniversary and the last shebang before the East Village institution vacates during the long-planned, multiyear renovations that will remake the building from top to bottom. The ceremony, which was witnessed by a packed house and conducted by self-proclaimed “Reverend of the Church of the Avant-Garde” Salley May, came midshow and right after the theater erupted in long, raucous cheers over the announcement that New York had legalized gay marriage.

“They love each other and now they will be married, because they love each other, and they can,” May triumphantly declared. “And where did it happen?”

“P.S. 122!” the crowd yelled back.

And then it was back to the sprawling cabaret of a performance, which on this night was emceed by Sarah Michelson, Neal Medlyn, and Carmine Covelli.

“How do we top that?” Covelli said, shaking his head.

“What else can we legalize?” Medlyn asked.

I arrived late that night, just in time to catch a dance mashup (with witty play-by-play) led by Jennifer Miller and Jennifer Monson. Everyone was on the floor, bodies piling up with beautiful awkwardness—Michelson’s dress was hiked up, her underwear was plumber-style, and any notion of an organized performance was out the window. “Chaos reigns!” Vallejo Gantner, P.S. 122’s artistic director, happily declared. All seemed right with the downtown universe.

Of course, “downtown” hasn’t really existed, either as an artistic style or a geographic reality, for years. And now P.S. 122, one of the last remnants of the East Village’s 1980s glory days (“pre-smug,” as Miller might have called it), is going to be homeless for an estimated three years, which can be translated to who knows how long. (When the city is in charge of the construction project, the only certainty is that everything will take longer and cost more than anyone’s worst nightmare scenario.) Programming will continue, off-site around and outside of New York City, but Saturday night, as one attendee said, felt like “being at a memorial.”

Left: Artist Julie Atlas Muz. Right: Dancers for Sally Silvers.

The purpose of going “old school” was to turn back time for a few days, and take a nostalgia-fueled victory lap around the block. This occasionally worked too well: Entering the pop-up lounge on the first-floor theater, with Lori E. Seid presiding over the turntables and playing tracks like “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” as small clusters of people drifted around drinking out of plastic cups, felt like stumbling into a junior high dance. (Needless to say, there was alcohol in those cups, flowing ever more freely as the nights progressed.)

There was, indeed, a sense of reunion. Everywhere you looked, on stage and in the audience, was performance art, dance and theater and music royalty: Tom Murrin, Kate Valk, John Zorn, David Leslie, Split Britches, Penny Arcade, and Carmelita Tropicana, to name just a few.

“I come by every twenty years just to humiliate myself, see how far I can go,” said David R. White, the former chief of the former Dance Theater Workshop, who now runs The Yard and who emceed the first night with the burlesque art star Julie Atlas Muz. She wore pasties. He wore pasties. Her tassels flew with considerably more ease than his.

But tassels are tame compared to tussling with a dead goat, as Arturo Vidich did this past season on the same stage, in the revival of Them, Ishmael Houston-Jones’s 1986 tour-de-force collaboration with Chris Cochrane and Dennis Cooper. A section of that dance (sans goat) was revived Friday, and the night before Vidich was commanded to improvise like a goat during Yvonne Meier’s offering.

“I love that she asked me to be a fucking goat,” he said. “I’m typecast!”

Only at P.S. 122. And never again, exactly as it was. Saturday night’s lineup concluded with a solo performance of Metamorphosis 2 and, fittingly, Closing, by Philip Glass, as well as, before that, a stirring speech by Mark Russell, the man who, more than any other individual, made this theater what it was, serving as artistic director from 1983 until 2004.

“As I listen to this room now, it’s saying it’s OK,” he said. “As I listen to this room now, it’s saying good-bye.”