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And That's How the Rent Gets Paid
Photograph: Paula CourtAnd That's How the Rent Gets Paid

East Village performance icon Jeff Weiss can still blow your mind

Written by
Helen Shaw

One of the reasons we all came to New York, or stayed in New York, or went somewhere else and wound up here mysteriously, is that we felt there might be a community here for us. They called it the Village, for heaven's sake, so probably we would meet our people and dwell there, happily together. Sometimes the reality can be disappointing; sometimes, like at the performance/revival of And That's How the Rent Gets Paid at the Kitchen Wednesday night, you see there's still a little juice left in that dream.

A serial epic from the legendary Jeff Weiss and Carlos Martinez, And That's How the Rent Gets Paid and its spin-offs, sequels, expansions and fever dreams (like the equally famous Hot Keys) were foundational 80s creations that played for decades in creators Weiss and Martinez's tiny studio and now-vanished spots like Cafe Cino. Twenty years ago the story stopped, but now--spurred by director and Weiss's friend Brooke O'Harra—some of the band has reassembled. Weiss hosts, which means he appears between every one of the evening's roughly 16 scenes, introducing a musical act or doing a gag about driving on the West Side Highway or paying quiet tribute to the beloved, absent Martinez. (The room is so full of affection for Weiss you can feel it push out like a balloon from the audience every time he speaks.) Every night is different: I saw a Glee Club that's been around for fifty years; Kate Valk in exquisite drag; a wrestling match between the tallest man in the world and the shortest; a very silly pudding gag in the middle of a gross-out scene about bagging scat; a cast of faces from the first incarnation (like music director Nicky Paraiso); and a cast of faces far too young to have ever seen it. But casting is slippery, the scenes change each performance. What will happen tonight? You can't predict exactly. Instead, if you go to the Kitchen right now and beg for a ticket, you will probably see another leggy, shaggy series of diamond-sharp, super-queer scenes that toy merrily with the idea of what's "offensive" while occasionally unfurling giant puppet dicks.

Certainly you'll need to avail yourself of the bar; three and a half hours of intermission-free zaniness is not meant for the entirely sober. But if you do happen to go without stimulants, you'll soon find yourself deep in the theatrical trip, floating on the haze of unreality that comes from 50 delighted people, all singing with their hearts in their throats.

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