Theater For The New City: “Who Murdered Love” Musical Starts Feb. 9

 "Who Murdered Love?" by Lissa Moira and Richard West is a Dadaist musical comedy
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Photo: Gerry Goodstein

Front row: Louisa Bradshaw, Ejyp Johnson, John David West. Behind: William Broderick, Amy Catherine Welch, Rori Nogee, Jef Canter.

NEW YORK -- "Who Murdered Love?" by Lissa Moira and Richard West is a Dadaist musical comedy set in 1924 New York City and in a Paris dreamscape. Its story follows WWI veteran and private eye "Sleepy" Sam Speed, his girl, Gail Friday and his junior detective, Everett Greene, as they attempt to unravel the disappearance and possible murder of DaDa Love at the behest of their client, a stunning heiress named Honey Potts. DaDa Love--enigmatic, handsome and charismatic--is at the center of the world for Dadaists in a time when Surrealists are vying with them for artistic supremacy. The sleuthing trio's quest for him leads them through a mad psychedelic adventure that is populated by takeoffs on artists of the post-WWI period who were also known for their artistic and sexual jealousies. It all makes for a lighthearted adventure story, which Theater for the New City (TNC), 155 First Ave., will present from February 2 to 19 in its large Johnson Theater. 

The authors, Lissa Moira and Richard West, wrote the tuner to illustrate the theme of cultural wars among artists: artistic jealousies and artistic totalitarianism. West says, "Every generation has these problems--midlevel artists try to dominate the scene and seek power to dominate other people." Their concept landed nicely on the Dada movement of the twenties, in which everybody preferred the satirical to the serious and relationships between artists devolved into rivalries of dogma between Dadaism, Surrealism and Eclecticism, like when André Breton excommunicated Tristan Tzara and expelled Salvador Dalí from the Surrealist group on supposedly idealistic grounds. "Every generation has these problems," says Richard West.

Surrealism floats on film noir as "Sleepy" Sam Speed takes an absinthe-fueled psychedelic trip to earn the C-note retainer he took from Honey Potts to locate the elusive, sensual demi-god known as DaDa Love. The latter symbolizes the old Dada spirit, which other artists want to kill. When Sam Speed accuses André Ranton (a takeoff on the name Breton) of shooting DaDa Love, Ranton replies, "It is of no importance. When I speak of Dada being dead, no more, kaput, I mean the movement, not the man--the man is insignificant."

Lissa Moira writes, "The artists, instead of nurturing one another with understanding and love, approach each other with petty jealousies and resentments. This, by extension, reflects all the ills of society."

The play's dialogue is filled with mischievous wordplay, free-associated verse and parody, as in this banter between Sam and André Ranton, Darcel Du Camp, The Countess Analise (a patron of the arts) and Blossom, (a model, muse and aspiring artist):

Someone here is gonna end up under arrest. Who done it?
Who did it?
Who DaDaad it?
Who done it?
Who's the pundit?
Who undone it?
Who did it? You idiot.
Who's an idiot?
Vous an idiot.

The score by Richard West is in the style of the American Songbook, which he calls "twenties with a modern twist." It's Hoagy Carmichael-style. The imagery of the piece starts off in a realistic "New York 1924" set for Sam's office and "goes lyrical" from there. It includes fantastic costuming by Litza Colon. There are masks and extravagant duds for the Harlequin characters. Sam's absinthe dream is bathed in magical swirling greens in lighting by Alexander Bartenieff and played before a backdrop of composite images by Lissa Moira.

The actors (alphabetically) are Louisa Bradshaw as The Countess Analise, William Broderick as Surrealist artist André Ranton, Sage Buchalter as ensemble and dance captain, Jef Canter as Dadaist artist Darcel Du Camp, Alisa Ermolaev as beautiful, wily heiress Honey Potts; Ejyp Johnson (a Showtime Apollo winner) as DaDa Love, the Dadaist artist and demi-god; Rori Nogee as Gail Friday, Amy Catherine Welch as Blossom, an artist’s model and muse; John David West as Sleepy Sam Speed and Chase Wolfe as young detective Everett Greene.

Book is by Lissa Moira and Richard West. Music is by Richard West. Lyrics are by Lissa Moira. Musical Director is Peter Dizzoza. Choreographer is Olivia Palacios. Set design is by Mark Marcante. Set decoration, special props and costume design are by Lytza Colon. Lighting design is by Alexander Bartenieff. Stage Manager is Lafayette Elizabeth Orsack.

The property began at Theater for the New City in 2002 as a straight play and evolved into a musical in two subsequent productions: at TNC in 2010 and the NY Fringe in 2012. It is now in a new, finished form.

Lissa Moira (director, book & lyrics) is a playwright, screenwriter, director, artist and poet. She is two-time Jerome Foundation grantee and an OOBR Award-winning actress. She co-authored, with Richard West, the long-running OOB hits "Sexual Psychobabble" and "The Best Sex of the XX Century Sale." At Theater for the New City, she headed The Chrysalis, a play development project. Her "Time It Is" made the final ten of the Chesterfield/Paramount Screen Writing Competition (from 5000 submissions worldwide). With Robert Santoli, Moira co-authored the feature film "Dead Canaries," which was directed by Santoli and featured Charles Durning, Dan Luria, Dee Wallace and Joel Higgins. She directed and was dramaturg of "Siren's Heart, Norma Jean and Marilyn in Purgatory" by Walt Stepp, which enjoyed a seven-week run at TNC in 2011 and then played 14 months Off-Broadway at the Actors Temple starring Louisa Bradshaw. The following year, she directed "Skybox," also by Walt Stepp, at TNC. Richmond Shepard ( described Moira's "The Seduction of Time” (TNC, 2014) as "a fascinating mixture of text, music, song and dance exploring a personification of the mythic relationship between nature and time as they mate.” Her play "Before God Was Invented" (TNC, 2011, 2014) was nominated for a Susan Brownell-Smith Award. Andréw Martin, (Nite Life Exchange) wrote, “'Before God Was Invented' is for those craving a glorious glimpse into what the very best evening can be in the greatest tradition of the theatre art form. Please run, don’t walk to catch it.” Her direction of "Cocaine Dreams" at the Kraine was described by the NY Post (Chip Deffaa) as "inspired." Moira writes, "I would like to thank Crystal Field for her continuing faith in me, both as a writer and director, and for allowing me to have the opportunity both to direct and to present my own new works. The theater has been an indispensable launching pad for me."

Richard West (composer) is a writer, musician and actor. Among his plays are "Warhol in Hell," "Bohemia on Wry," "Sex and the Single Samurai" and "Enlightenment on the Installment Plan." With Lisa Moira, he has written "Sexual Psychobabble," "Who Murdered Love? "and "The Best Sex of the XX Century Sale." His one man shows include "Coastal Complexes, " "The Hip Revival Hour," "Daffodils for Duchamp," "Cafe Vanity," "Coming of Age Amongst the Urban Savages," "Coming of Age in a Stoned Decade," "The Blue Monkey," "The Floating Duck Variety Show," "Going Out of Democracy Sale," "The Grand Theft Inaugural Ball," "Variety Show" and "You Sure Got a Lot of Nirvana." He had a radio career on the West Coast (KPFA), a Manhattan Cable TV show ("That's More Like It"), and has performed his satirical and serious songs and East-West exotic fusion music at venues ranging from The Limelight, Theater Row Mudd Club, The Knitting Factory and The Village Gate. He collaborated on a song cycle with Lissa Moira, "The Son of a Bush from Texas & Other Related Songs." He is a Jerome Foundation grantee.

February 2 to 19, 2023
Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave. (at E. 10th Street)
Presented by Theater for the New City
Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 PM, Sundays at 3:00 PM
$18 general admission, $12 seniors & students
Box office (212) 254-1109,
Runs 2:00 plus intermission
Critics are invited on or after Feb. 3 (opens Feb. 3)

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