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The New York TImes - The Arts - Monday, July 31, 2000


A Bit of Theater History Dies a Fantastic Death


Performers bade farewell to a building by haunting it on Friday night. "The Judson House Project" brought theatrical magic to Judson House, a structure formerly owned by the Judson Memorial Church.

The church, long a center of social activism and artistic ferment, stands on Washington Square South, where its congregation expects it to remain for decades to come. Behind the church is Judson House, which has served as a headquarters for various cultural, health and social service organizations. Last year the church sold the building to New York University, which plans to raze it.

Judson House is a warren of tiny rooms and narrow halls and stairways, and an arts group called the Peculiar Works Project filled it with dances, theatrical sketches and site-specific artworks on Friday night. Every half-hour from 7 to 10 p.m., guides led groups of 12 people through the house on tours lasting about 90 minutes.

There were wonders to behold, some purely fanciful, others referring to Judson House's history. Thus, in some rooms, performers dressed as doctors and nurses conducted pseudo-medical examinations.

But fantasy dominated most of the premises. A woman became a truly icy femme fatale by locking her lover in a refrigerator. A wife deserted her husband to run off with burglars in animal masks. There was a snowfall of feathers. A winged sneaker swung from a ceiling. Disembodied voices recited Gertrude Stein. White-clad dancers in an all-white room moved through swaying and swinging sequences recalling the no-nonsense choreography associated with the Judson Dance Theater of the 1960s. When the choreography required them to yawn, that was a reminder that the old Judson choreographers believed that any movement could serve as a dance movement.

Someone was sprawled in a bathtub at a depiction of the supposedly riotous cast parties held after theatrical productions at Judson. The revelry included a hymn to the 60s by the Rev. Al Carmines, a former Judson pastor who composed several successful Off Off Broadway musicals staged at the church.

Finally, visitors were invited to stick their hands through holes in a wall and they received fragments of Judson House walls to take home as souvenirs.

The production was a triumph of teamwork. People responsible for the conception, direction and choreography of events included Diane Dwyer, Lynn Neuman, Steven Dean, Alicia Diaz, Renee Philippi, Chris Burney, Michael Paller, Yanira Castro, Laurel Jay Carpenter, Ralph Lewis, Nicole Cavaliere, Tim Brown, Gabriel Shanks, Nancy S. Chu and Barry Rowell.