By Tanya Marquardt; Directed by Mallory Catlett
Produced by Theatre Conspiracy
Off Off Broadway, Solo Show
Runs through 7.28.18
The Tank, 312 West 36th Street
by Adrienne Urbanski on 7.27.18
Tanya Marquardt and the band in Stray. Photo by Christian Roberson.
BOTTOM LINE: This compelling combination of memoir and music creates a truly one-of-a-kind theatrical experience.
One of the great joys in seeing Off Off Broadway theater is when you come across a work of dazzling ingenuity and raw self expression that hasn’t been edited and refined and dulled the way larger, pricier productions often are. Stray is one of those works, in which writer-performer Tanya Marquardt adapts her memoir of the same title (coming soon) into a performance piece by merging music and spoken word. She shares key memories from her life and then sings songs inspired by these events, backed up by a band featuring Tim Carlson (who wrote the show’s music and performs in some of the dialogue-driven moments), Jon Wood, and Ed Goodine.
Stray begins with the story of how a 16-year-old Marquardt ran away from a troubled home life in the small Canadian town of Port Alberni to 1990s New York City. This was a time when the Lower East Side still burned brightly with a punk scene, before it had fizzled into a hyper-gentrified area of silver and chrome. Among the key moments—the night Marquardt modeled in a BDSM fashion show and then explored the downstairs dungeon, despite still being a virgin herself. Her stories of life in New York City at 16 are interspersed with tales of her return to the city at twice that age. 32 and escaping a bad breakup, Marquardt copes with her emotional pain by numbing herself with wine and having sex with strangers.
Marquardt also tackles life with her mother, who had a penchant for terrible men—there's her violent stepfather who pulled a gun on the family, and then her biological father, who tried to deny paternity. Marquardt expresses the emotions surrounding these pivotal moments by performing punk songs within which she incorporates spoken word à la Patti Smith. Her demeanor and performance style evoke the years when the East Village was still a haven for live music and artistic expression. Most of the songs are by Marquardt and Carlson, but to capture the period, Stray also contains covers of work by The Velvet Underground and Church.
While the autobiographical pieces are compelling, they often feel fragmented and incomplete (aside from her story at the BDSM club). Marquardt has talent as both a writer and a storyteller, although the memories shared in the second half are more detailed than those at the beginning. Marquardt attempts to clarify her nonlinear storytelling by writing 16 on one hand and 32 on the other, and then flashing us the correct palm as she jumps across time. But while the concept of dual beginnings at both 16 and 32 is compelling, it becomes increasingly confusing as to which story line is which. As much as I enjoyed the live music and Marquardt’s constant energy, I wanted to hear more from her memoir about those stories that made her the person she is today.
When Marquardt questions her life in New York, wondering if somewhere else might be easier, her thesis adviser reminds her of the rich history of artists and misfits that came here to find acceptance and inspiration, including Leslie Feinberg and Patti Smith. Through their stories, Marquardt finds the strength to continue on, and find her own voice. Artist David Wojnarowicz—who penned a poem that had a lasting effect on Marquardt—also features prominently, with the cast donning masks of his face while urging audience members to do the same. (Coincidentally, there is currently a Wojnarowicz retrospective at the Whitney.) Marquardt’s genuine passion for her art, and her admiration for the creativity of others, comes across strongly in Stray; to view it is to be filled with inspiration and hope that New York City is still a place where artists can find their voice and thrive.
(Stray plays at The Tank Theater, 312 West 36th Street, through July 28, 2018. The running time is 1 hour with no intermission. Performances are Wednesdays through Fridays at 8; Saturdays at 8 and 10. Tickets are $15 and are available at TheTankNYC.org.)
Stray is by Tanya Marquardt. Directed by Mallory Catlett. Music is by Tim Carlson.
The cast is Tanya Marquardt, Tim Carlson, Ed Goodine, and Jon Wood.