"To me, we're calling up the ghosts of Annie Chambers [the madam who ran a brothel at the same corner around 1900], the strippers and all the Late Night performers," says Ron Megee from a cell phone backstage at the Unicorn before a recent performance of The Laramie Project. "It will be a celebration of the past while propelling us into the future."
When Megee and Missy Koonce took over the former porn palace last year for their often splendid, always irreverent shows, they never tried to hide the theater's colorful past. In fact, they reveled in it, plastering the dressing rooms with pictures of strippers and making the Kama Sutra wallpaper in the ladies' room the highlight of any patron's first-time tour. Abandoned reels of porn became part of a quirky fund-raising device as the company kept discovering new episodes of the ritualistic 1963 movie Mondo Cane starring cross-dressed Erica Kane.
"There was such a feeling of excitement there from the first party," says Koonce, recalling the night when patrons could purchase their own theater seats. Though the troupe has been in discussion with various theaters and supporters about its next home, Koonce is resigned to the company's nomadic nature. "One more time, we'll be looking."
Late Night member David Wayne Reed (whose withered Cheyenne Frentall from Drill Team Massacre was an Old Chelsea theatrical high point) is the benefit's Martha Stewart, capitalizing on a theater stripped to four walls and a stage. "It will be a Dickensian recap of Late Night past, present and future," he says. "We'll be auctioning off props, porn reels, of course, and memorabilia like Pretty Cathy's panties from The Birds -- eclectic finds from our archaeological dig. And it's first come, first served."
Stripped is not intended to be a pity party. Megee and company promise to drag out the wardrobes they've acquired from such shows as the all-female Bonanza and Shoctopussy, the all-male Stepford Wives and The Birds and the mixed-gender Sweet Underground Charity.
Since Koonce and Megee are both in shows for the rest of this year, Late Night's next season can't begin until after December, yet it's already filled to the point of bursting. Next season brings Dangerous Dirty Little Liaisons, a take-off on the vengeful Glenn Close costume drama; Disaster 2002, a salute to cinema dreck like Airport 1975; and Come Back to the 9 to 5, Dolly Parton, Dolly Parton, a reunion of the beleaguered secretaries of the film 9 to 5.