Had a fine time yesterday at the New School Arts Festival presentation of “A Checkroom Romance.” It’s a musical with cartooning -- that is Mark Mulcahy’s music with libretto and drawings by Ben Katchor.
The cartoons telling the story were projected onto a screen and carefully timed to the lyrics sung by the wonderful musicians – Mark Mulcahy singing the most characters, the composer’s prerogative; Flora Reed singing the checkroom girl, Lena Basilicia, extremely well along with other characters; keyboards player Ken Maiuri also plays percussion and sings a few characters; and hidden from my view, Dave Trenholm was busy playing the sax, clarinet, and flute, in addition to guitar, so that when playing any of first three, he clearly wasn’t singing. But he did sing on occasion. These people were tight, if not perfect, imaginative, and very funny. As is the off-the-wall story by Katchor.
In this mad story, the main character, Marcus Rule, has a checkroom fetish. He toured the capitals of Europe to visit great checkrooms. He fantasizes about checkrooms. He evicts his young daughter from her bedroom in their New York apartment so it can be converted to a checkroom. Really. The subplots with the checkroom girl and a scam artist addicted to salted peanuts is mad as well, and they come together to create chaos. It’s absurd, it’s a blast. But it’s too funny to be noir.
Now, many a checkroom girl could be found in noir films. They had pouty lips and were part of the story’s mystery – or they were sweet innocents like “Mildred Atkinson” in the great Nicholas Ray film, “In A Lonely Place,” who checked the ubiquitous gentlemen’s hats and explained the story of a bestseller to struggling screenwriter Humphrey Bogart. Lena Basilicia, the checkroom girl in “A Checkroom Romance,” however, is no femme fatale, so I don’t know why this musical was in a so-called “noir” program.
But no matter. I had fun, the rest of the audience had fun, and, in this crazy city that drags the money out of our pockets from the moment we awaken, these two hours of laughing to music were free. Yes, free. In the New School Arts Festival this week, there are movies, readings, and who knows what, all free, listed and described here: www.newschool.edu/events/noir.
~ Molly Matera, signing off, looking for more free fun.