La MaMa Blogs: 6 QUESTIONS: Ralph Lewis, Peculiar Works Project

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

6 QUESTIONS: Ralph Lewis, Peculiar Works Project

Ralph Lewis of Peculiar Works Project is at the helm of the staged reading of Tom Murrin's SON OF COCKSTRONG as part of the Tom Murrin Full Moon Performance Festival. Ralph took a break from putting the show together to answer our 6 Questions. Here are his answers:

1. What did you know about Tom Murrin and his work prior to directing SON OF COCK-STRONG? 
Initially, I saw a few of his solo performance pieces, and now, wish I had seen more. I’m not sure what Peculiar Works show Tom first attended, but he became a big supporter of the Company. And, like everyone else says, his support was always unconditional and totally encouraging. In 2007, we did a staged reading of Cock-Strong at the old Ohio Theater, and he spoke about the play and his work afterward. He was everything that everyone in this community wants to be – just the nicest, most-giving artist. The world is a lil’ less of a good place without him in it.

2. SON OF COCK-STRONG premiered at La MaMa in 1970. What do you think it has to say to audiences today? 
A lot has changed in the downtown theater community since the original Son of Cock-Strong, but the play’s themes of power and love will always prevail. Peculiar Works just had to find a contemporary key to unlock its message. There’s a great old quote that ends with, “…and some people have greatness thrust upon them.” That’s what happens to Arthur Cock-Strong, Jr., and there’s much to be learned about how events and people can push us to places we don’t want to go. Do we control our lives and chart our own course through it, or do the people we meet and what happens along the way determine where we end up?

3. How are you using technology in this reading? 
Technology is still a scary proposition in the theater today – things can always go wrong, and yet the show must go on as they say. We’re using it anyway! Our goal is a “paperless staged reading,” so there will be no scripts, but there will be teleprompters and cue cards like a Saturday Night Live sketch; projections, video, and microphones like the Wooster Group; as well as laptops, palm pads, cell phones, walkie-talkies, and more. If anything goes wrong, it could be wild, but it will be worth the price of admission, and really, I think Tom would appreciate the risk-taking.

4. Who or what inspires you? 
Peculiar Works and I are most inspired by those who have come before us. My partners and I spent 3 years studying the origins of Off-Off Broadway for a previous piece, so I think there is no one who knows more about our forebears than we do. But, we are also inspired by other artistic movements and the artists who made them happen. We’ve researched the hell out of DaDa in the ‘20s, Abstract Expressionists at the Cedar Bar, the Provincetown and Washington Square Players of early Off Broadway, and recently, I’ve even been boning up on the very first theater in Manhattan on Nassau Street and Park Row. Famous artistic movements come together and often explode, but there’s so much to learn from them all – “originality is lack of information.”

5. What is next for Peculiar Works Project? 
On May 9th at 10pm, we’ll be doing 30 minutes of my partner Barry Rowell’s new play, Nobody Brings Anything Small into a Bar in the Dixon Place Lounge, and on May 17th at 2pm, I’ll be giving a book-talk on Before and Behind the Curtain at the Tompkins Sq. Library for LES History Month. It’s a great 1851 book, all about what was going on in the theater at the time when the Broadway theater district went no farther north than Astor Place. There’s more on our website:

6. What does working at La MaMa mean to you? 
This is a great time to be working at La MaMa. I mean, we all miss Ellen terribly, and I’m so influenced by the half-century of legendary-ness she built here, but she also did a great job preparing this theater for the future. No one can tell if the transition is difficult for the staff, and that is to their great credit, but Mia Yoo is doing a fabulous job of steering this theater forward. I have no doubt that La MaMa’s best days are ahead. Peculiar Works is incredibly grateful to be part of it and the Tom Murrin Full Moon Festival.

La MaMa presents

Son of Cock-Strong

Peculiar Works Project
part of Tom Murrin Full Moon Performance Festival
Saturday, April 26 at 5pm

The Club @ La MaMa

Buy tickets here

Ralph Lewis leads Peculiar Works troupers on a wild ride to the top in Son of Cock-Strong. This non-sequel sequel (originally directed by La MaMa bad boy John Vaccaro) follows Arthur Cock-Strong Jr.’s rise to power in a ridiculous musical with new compositions by Spencer Katzman.


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