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Heart & Dagger Plunges In with Musical Twosome 'Menopausal Mermaid,' 'Hair'

by Kilian Melloy
Thursday Sep 7, 2017

It's a new season of theater, and Boston fringe company Heart & Dagger Productions is plunging in with two musical productions that are slated to go up back to back at Club Cafe. The first is "The Menopausal Mermaid," a dragalicious fantasy romp that catches up with one of Disney's most famous heroines. Just what has Ariel been up to over the last few decades? Playwright Michael Gaucher offers his sassy insights.

No sooner will "Mermaid" have swum off into the sunset than Club Cafe's performance space will light up anew with a fresh production of the "American Tribal Love-Rock Musical" -- which is to say, that evergreen gem from the 1960s, "Hair." It's the Trump era, America is deeply divided, and we so need to let the sun shine in and dispel the darkness. The classic James Rado, Gerome Ragni, and Galt MacDermot play will twit the zeitgeist, tut the haters, and give us a boost of optimism.

Who's the creative dynamo behind this mad undertaking? None other than Joey Pelletier, the endlessly energetic "bad boy" of the Boston stage, who's directing both productions (and doing bit of choreography to boot).

EDGE caught up with Pelletier and fellow Heart & Dagger member Melissa Barker.

EDGE: This certainly seems like a good time for a new production of "Hair." Will this iteration of the "American Tribal Love Rock Musical" reference the Diane Paulus revival at all? Will you hearken back to the '60s style productions? Are you doing a completely new spin?

Melissa Barker: I'm personally a little obsessed with Will Swenson in the revival version, but beyond that, we're not drawing too hard from that production.

Joey Pelletier: Will Swenson (who played Berger in the revival) is a babe. When we began talking about producing "Hair," I made the difficult decision to not listen to the revival soundtrack. Difficult because I think it's one of my favorite cast recordings. There's so much passion in every song and all the singers sound gorgeous. I've been very inspired by the Off-Broadway and Original London recordings. Both are weird and wild. Some of the voices aren't traditionally strong or beautiful, but the characterizations are fascinating.

As an ensemble, we're making connections between the 60's experience and the issues we're up against today. There are so many similarities.

EDGE: You're also directing the other show Heart & Dagger is opening in September, Joey - "The Menopausal Mermaid." First off, what inspired you to do two shows right on top of each other like this?

Joey Pelletier: Oh you know, I'm just plain ridiculous. John and Peter Mac, the producers of "Golden Girls Live!" and the Judy Garland shows, moved to Vegas! The gentlemen had been performing at Club Café weekly for two years, so when they left (in June), there was a pretty big hole to fill in terms of programming at the Club. For the moment, the Club and H&D are playing with showcasing a variety of music, theater, comedy, and burlesque for the members and the community.

EDGE: What was the reason for this particular pairing of plays?

Joey Pelletier: You know, sometimes my reasons are really artistic and there are times when I just want to do a mix of ideas. This season features a grab bag of ideas, collaborations, and genres of theatre. "The Menopausal Mermaid," written by my friend Michael Gaucher, is a parody of one of my very first Disney films -- "The Little Mermaid." Oh my gosh, I used to belt out "Part of Your World" on my way to school, during chorus, at home in my room. Michael's play is a mix of poetry, comedy, filthy naughtiness, and parody. And you get some Ursula time. It's a show for everyone. Well, everyone over the age of 16 years.

EDGE: How are you managing directorial duties for both, not to mention co-creating the choreography for "Hair?"

Joey Pelletier: I've had a lot of prep time. This morning Gaucher, the Mermen from "The Menopausal Mermaid," and I rehearsed songs and ran lines. Directly after rehearsal, I had a planning meeting with Club Café's Jim Morgrage. Then I walked our (James Sims') puppy Fritz. At the present moment, I'm sitting in a rehearsal being run by actor, director, and choreographer extraordinaire, Michael Underhill [who] is choreographing the song "3500" from "Hair." While I'm at this rehearsal, I'm writing down notes on the song "Donna" from "Hair." Tonight, when I get home, I'll finish my notes on a dance we're building for tomorrow's rehearsal of "The Menopausal Mermaid." Then I'll watch "Rick and Morty" or finish "The Leftovers." And I'll definitely have a glass of wine.

I have an awesome team. I'm not stressed, I swear. Actually, I become overwhelmed with inspiration for which I find I'm working early mornings and late evenings on aspects of the productions.

EDGE: Melissa, you were with the late and much loved Whistler in the Dark until that company disbanded. That was such a heartbreak! Do you mind talking a bit about what was behind Whistler's core of artists going their separate ways?

Melissa Barker: Ah yes, our dearly departed Whistler. There's not much of a story behind disbanding, honestly. It was just time! It's funny, I don't think anyone in the company was heartbroken over it, sad for sure, but it was time for all of us to move on. Our audiences and theatre community friends though! Yikes! Everyone was so upset. Hahaha! Sorry we broke your hearts! Many of us still act around town come see us elsewhere (or go visit Meg in Maine!)!

EDGE: How did you then find yourself becoming part of the Heart & Dagger crew?

Melissa Barker: It's funny, Joey and I have known each other since college (so...a long time), but we somehow never managed to work together until I auditioned for "5 Lesbians [Eating A Quiche]" two years ago. After that show Joey asked me to be in "Drag Miserables," and to join the company. And now here we are! It's been an exciting and occasionally unexpected adventure so far!

Joey Pelletier: Melissa and I have had our fair share of sexy scandals. Also, I was a big fan of Whistler in the Dark. I played a cop once for Meg Taintor. And a barista.

But, yeah, I really like having Melissa on the H&D team. I like having another queer woman's voice around reminding me which direction the company should be grooving in.

EDGE: Melissa, what roles - on stage and off - are you playing in these two productions coming up with Heart & Dagger?

Melissa Barker: So, for "Hair" I get to play Berger. How bonkers great is that?! (part of that whole unexpected adventure thing I mentioned). As for "The Menopausal Mermaid," I'll be around helping take tickets and such, but mostly I get to just be an enthusiastic fangirl.

EDGE: What is the story behind Michael Gaucher's "The Menopausal Mermaid?" Is this a new play? I have never heard of it before, but it sounds like a total blast!

Joey Pelletier: Um... it's the real-live true story of Ariel, the Little Mermaid.

Melissa Barker: The script is delightful.

Joey Pelletier: Michael Gaucher and I work together at Club Café. He used to put up fabulous shows with his company Fresh Fruit. We were talking all theatery one day and he told me he had a fun show that could feature sexy guys as Mermen and I was hooked. You know me, I love shows with eye candy. The character of Ariel is older and full of venom. There will be a lot of familiar songs, flashy costumes, and bare male skin, for those of you who like that sort of thing.

EDGE: Was "Menopausal Mermaid" written to be a drag production, or has Heart & Dagger abducted and then had its fiendish way with it?

Melissa Barker: I actually don't remember if it was originally a drag character or not! It's been a bit since I read the script. Mermaids and drag queens seem like a natural marriage to me though!

Joey Pelletier: Michael began writing it before he even thought about my little company and me. I believe it was written to be a drag production, and when we started work shopping and reworking the piece, we decided a woman or a man could play the character.

I love that you think that I abduct shows and have my "fiendish ways" with them! Perhaps I do, though I have mad respect for playwrights. I do hate gender constrictions. I love experimenting with women playing male-oriented roles, and vice versa.

EDGE: Club Café seems to have stepped somewhat into the void left by Factory Theater's closure. I think Club Café was the venue for other recent H&D productions - is it the "official" Heart & Dagger venue? Being that Club Café is a gay night spot does that constrain or liberate the choices you make when determining that to do next?

Melissa Barker: I never really thought about Club Café as filling some of the Factory void, but yeah! I guess there have been a few theatre companies besides us who have performed there. I think Club Café is our official venue (though we'll still be performing in other spaces!).

Joey Pelletier: We've sort of become their resident theater company!

Melissa Barker: I think CC being a gay club influences what we perform there, but it's not a constraint.

Joey Pelletier: Totally, I think our fans already expect some sort of queer influence in our productions - sexual or gender. We also have a responsibility to the members of Club Café and what they might want to see.

Melissa Barker: It gives us a space to do our brand of messy, boozy, queer, drag, musical theatre.

Joey Pelletier: Oh my gosh, Melissa - that should be our new tag line - MESSY, BOOZY, QUEER, DRAG. Step right up ladies and germs!

Melissa Barker: Some of the more traditional theatre spaces in town aren't necessarily suited to that aspect of H&D's work.

Joey Pelletier: Club Café has also become a home to some really wonderful and sexy Burlesque groups. And the IRNE award-winning Hub Theatre has taken a summer residency for the past few years.

I love that Machine, Jacques, and Club Café have all become hot tickets in town!

EDGE: Joey, will you be back at Club Café this winter for the annual Winter Panto (albeit with a different company, imaginary beasts)?

Joey Pelletier: Actually, imaginary beasts' Winter Panto is moving to the Charlestown Working Theatre!!! And, believe it or not, after seven years of a lovely tradition, I will not be performing in it. But I can't wait to see it... this season Matthew Woods is directing "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," the Panto.

EDGE: What's next this season for Heart & Dagger?

Joey Pelletier: We're working on a script for "The Picture of Dorian Gray" for the winter. And this February we'll be launching our 4th Drag Spectacle... "Phantom of the Disco!" Later this spring we will be back at the BCA for Katie Bender's "Still Now," directed by Amy Meyer. And Michael Gaucher is working on a couple of really ridiculous plays for us. So it's going to be a fantastic season!

EDGE: What's next in general for each of you?

Melissa Barker: I get to direct our next drag musical sing-a-long! We're doing "Phantom of the Disco" (a mash up of "Phantom of the Opera" and some favorite disco hits), and James K. Sims is doing musical direction, and I'm so excited I could just pee myself! H&D is also cooking up some holiday goodies, so I'll be involved in that too.

Joey Pelletier: Writing! Ptown! More puppy training (for our real puppy).

"The Monopausal Mermaid" runs at Club Cafe Sept., 7 - 24 and returns Nov, 2 - 12.

"Hair" runs at Club Cafe Sept. 29 - Oct. 15.

For more information, please go to https://www.facebook.com/heartdaggerproductions and also to http://www.clubcafe.com

For tickets, please go to http://menopausalmermaid.bpt.me

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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