Maya Lekach

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Is Bushwick the new Broadway? BLEACH, the one-man show playing twice nightly in a basement steps away from the Wilson Avenue L train stop is extending its U.S. premiere run to March 30.

The entire show takes place in a room that has been literally made into character Tyler’s basement studio. A windowed, converted garage, formerly a recording studio’s green room, is now hidden by the two couches for 12 audience members, a bed, some chairs, and some very gay knickknacks as set pieces (think Drag Con badges and Pamela Anderson’s novel Star on the bookshelf).  

As the basement door closes, and the pop music that seems to have travelled from a Hell’s Kitchen bar ends, Tyler, played by either David Gow or Brenden George, will wake up from his pre-show slumber and, for the next 70 minutes, it is just the audience and this one, often mostly-nude character. Tyler’s career as a gay male hustler is just the starting point of the dark and dirty secrets we get to know about this Bushwick resident that extend beyond what you’d get to know about your average straphanger.

While the play seems steeped in Bushwick and New York culture, it was originally a London-based piece from British writer David Ireland-Reeves and took place not in a basement, but on a traditional stage.

“This is definitely a reinvention,” said lead actor Brenden George. “Though it is a U.S. premiere, it’s almost misleading. It’s a total reimagination of the original show.”

Brenden George in BLEACH. Photo by Hunter Canning.

George has been with the piece since the premiere in January. Even before opening night, George was involved in helping to create the piece that is so site-specific.

“Bushwick was certainly no accident,” George said. “Bushwick would be where Tyler would really live. It seemed like the neighborhood where a lot of the fun and young LGBT scene is. I have friends in Manhattan who commute to Bushwick to go out.”

Once Bushwick was decided upon by the creative team, including director Zack Carey and producer Ron Lasko under the name Spin Cycle Productions, they set out to find a location to make the Bushwick experience whole.

“Having the audience take the L Train to the Wilson Avenue stop, which they likely haven’t gotten off at before, makes the play start for them long before they enter the room. It’s a theatrical experience long beyond the confines of the space and it makes the whole neighborhood our playing space in a certain way,” George said.

Beyond just this unconventional geographic location for a theater piece, the small space encourages a certain intimacy between the actor playing Tyler and the audience, sitting not even a foot away.

“Because they enter a room where the rules are so defamiliarized and because it’s so unconventional, people are so unfamiliar with what is or isn’t allowed,” George said on the audience’s tendencies to react very differently to the work and the space. “In our minds almost everything is allowed. Probably nothing illegal though.”

And what an audience member might end up doing during the course of the show could include providing dialogue, grabbing the actor’s butt cheek, or simply sitting back and enjoying the ride.

“The story really does have a very wide appeal. It is definitely getting talked about in LGBT circles but I don’t think it’s alienating in any way,” George said on the show’s effect on audiences.

Poster courtesy of Spin Cycle NYC.

“When I asked the playwright about why he wrote the show, he told me it was really borne out of watching people moving to London and working so hard just to live in London. Their whole goal was just to survive living in the city; it didn’t matter their health or happiness it was just to be able to say ‘I made it,’” George said.

While the writer based his themes on London, that rings just as true in New York City. “There’s so many people that I meet and friends of mine whose goals are just to live in the city and make ends meet. They’ve made a name for themselves and for them that’s enough. And that’s a little haunting for me,” said George.

While Tyler makes some questionable decisions, there’s no doubt that he’s someone audiences will recognize. “There’s a piece of Tyler all of us can see in ourselves,” said Brenden.

While seeing BLEACH may the be the last trip out past the Lorimer stop for many New Yorkers, Brenden thinks the neighborhood could continue to exist as a theatrical space, luring Bushwick luddites out east, “Even if I wasn’t involved in the show I’d gladly make the trip to Bushwick again for something that’s as cool and different as this.”

BLEACH runs Tuesday through Sunday until March 30 with shows at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. at 687 Wilson Avenue. Running time is 70 minutes. Contains brief nudity, no one under 18 is permitted to attend. Tickets are $30 – $50, call 212-352-3101 or visit here.

Cover photo courtesy of Hunter Canning.

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