La MaMa Ellen Stewart Theatre
66 East Fourth St. between Second Ave. & Bowery
Thursday – Sunday through December 19
In 1928, Austrian painter Egon Schiele died at the age of twenty-eight. Perhaps not coincidentally, visual artist John Kelly is retiring his masterwork, a dance-theater piece about Schiele’s life and career, in its twenty-eighth year. PASS THE BLUTWURST, BITTE was first performed in a very different, much shorter version back at the Pyramid Club in 1982. The constantly evolving piece earned Kelly an Obie for its 1986 run at Dance Theater Workshop, then was revived in an expanded version at La MaMa in 1995. As part of La MaMa’s fortieth anniversary season, founder and artistic director Ellen Stewart convinced Kelly to once again bring back BLUTWURST, which is now running at the Ellen Stewart Theatre through December 19. Kelly has vowed that this will be the last time he ever performs the show, which in its fourth version features several new dances and videos. It’s a thrilling production about art and love that pits the bohemian lifestyle against a repressive culture, told in brilliant and unique ways. The rubbery-limbed Kelly marvelously embodies the sharp, angular Schiele, accompanied by a pair of Alter Egons (Luke Murphy and Eric Jackson Bradley) as he first woos free-spirited Wally Neuzil (Tymberly Canale), whom he meets in a café chugging beer and eating sausage, as his muse and mistress, and later the more traditional Edith (MacKenzie Meehan), who soon becomes his wife. Kelly alternates between silent-movie-like vignettes, set dance pieces, and short Expressionistic film segments, including a marvelous one in which he incorporates glass, his own drawing, and one of Schiele’s most famous self-portraits. The scenes between Schiele and Wally are particularly effective, as Kelly and Canale nearly melt into each other despite Schiele’s social awkwardness. Kelly has kept the show decidedly low-tech, with lo-fi music played on an old record player, the videos choppy and old-fashioned, and Huck Snyder’s sets sparse and intimate. BLUTWURST, which also garnered Kelly an NEA American Masterpieces Award, is playing Thursdays through Sundays through December 19.
Although you don’t have to know anything about Schiele’s extraordinary work to fall in love with the show, we suggest you do just a bit of homework before you go; you can find numerous images and an excellent essay on Schiele online from his New York dealer, Galerie St. Etienne, and several of his works are usually on view at the Neue Galerie. In addition, “Schiele-Kelly,” a collection of new photographs of Kelly posing as Schiele as well as ephemera from the show’s history, continues December 9-12 at La MaMa La Galleria at 6 East First St.