Written and Directed by Byungkoo Ahn; Song Cycle by Gihieh Lee
Off Broadway, Musical
Ran through 6.16.19
La MaMa, Ellen Stewart Theater, 66 East 4th Street
by Eleanor J. Bader on 6.16.19
More Zimin in 13 Fruitcakes. Photo by Theo Cote.
BOTTOM LINE: A dazzling multi-media extravaganza celebrating LGBTQ lives throughout world history.
Long before Manhattan was awash in celebratory rainbows for "Stonewall 50," queer lives existed. And mattered. Harmodius and Aristogeiton were among the many couples who frolicked in ancient Greece. In another part of the world, Chinese politician Dong Xian, a Han Dynasty leader, and Korea’s King Hyegong lived out loud, refusing to hide or censor themselves. Nonetheless, both were reviled for their same-sex attractions. In fact, the King was killed by his enemies in the 8th century AD, after two enormous earthquakes leveled the land he ruled. His adversaries interpreted the destruction as God’s displeasure over homosexuality, a hateful judgment meant to drive queer life from public view.
These characters, and others including Hans Christian Andersen, Leonardo da Vinci, Eleanor Roosevelt, Gertrude Stein, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Alan Turing, Virginia Woolf, and Vita Sackville-West are among thirteen LGBTQ heroes exalted in the world-premiere production of 13 Fruitcakes. It’s an exuberant multimedia spectacle, a whirlwind of original songs (written by Gihieh Lee) and dance (choreographed by Jaseung Won), rapid-fire screen projections (by Inhye Lee, Juyi Mao, Julie Casper Roth, and Kevin Price), computer generated sound (directed by Martin Herman), and fanciful costumes (by Leon Wiebers).
All told, the production, written by South Korean playwright Byungkoo Ahn, and performed in both Korean and English, is exhilarating. Each vocalist is capable of singing opera as well as pop, and the dancers are unfailingly graceful. Orlando, the nominal leader of the eleven-fruitcake ensemble, serves as a narrator of sorts, and is beautifully played by More Zimin, Korea’s most prominent drag star. It’s a gender-bending, evocative, and emotionally resonant presentation. Supplemented by live and computer-generated music from the Los Angeles Laptop Collective, this is a show that defies categorization. It’s pure, simple pageantry.
Part history lesson and part flamboyant celebration, 13 Fruitcakes is by turns joyful and sobering, entertaining and inspiring. As part of La MaMa’s Stonewall 50 series, it celebrates queer life, but it also reminds us, should we need to be prodded, that long before the Stonewall rebellion, queer folks were living life, running governments, making art, writing books, and defying the social conventions of their era. Indeed, as we toast the Stonewall riot that set off the contemporary LGBTQ movement, let's also lift a glass in thanks to those who made this movement possible.
(13 Fruitcakes played at the Ellen Stewart Theater at La MaMa, 66 East 4th Street, June 13 through June 16, 2019. The running time was 85 minutes with no intermission. Performances were Thursday through Saturday at 7; Sunday at 3. Tickets were $25 ($20 student/senior). For more information visit lamama.org.)
13 Fruitcakes is written and directed by Byungkoo Ahn. Composer is Gihieh Lee. Choreography by Jaseung Won. Set Design by Jung Griffin. Costume Design by Leon Wiebers. Lighting Design by Erin EarleFleming. Musical Director is Hanul Chae. Associate Director is Kimun Kim. Video Arts Lead by Inhye Lee. Video Arts by Juyi Mao, Julie Casper Roth, and Kevin Price. Producer is Sujin Kim.
The cast is Bookyung Chung, Daegwon Hong, Jayoung Jeong, Junghoun Jun, Hyunhee Kim, Jiung Kim, Kyungrok Kim, Nayeon Kim, Gihyun Lee, Jieun Lee, Yoojung Park, Joowon Shin and More Zimin.
The Los Angeles Laptop Collective are Tobias Banks, Glen Gray, Martin Herman, Alysia Michelle James, Cameron Johnston, Sean Martineau Jones, David Garcia Saldana, and Seth Shafer. Pianists are Eunbin Kim and Yeseul Yoon.