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‘Dead Brains,’ art world angst, fine acting at former Pyramid Club

BY STEPHEN DiLAURO | As the title “Dead Brains” is unlikely to provoke visions of happiness, let’s get to that once I am done lavishing praise on the venue.

In the basement of what was the Pyramid Club back in the day, a new space has erupted onto the East Village theater/performance scene. Upstairs is now the home of Baker Falls, the latest Knitting Factory music club iteration.

Downstairs, with a decor that feels like a 1930s parlor after a quick visit by a graffiti tagger, is the Feverdream Lounge. This is the setting for a bar and a stage, which is where I saw “Dead Brains.” On my way in, I met Nick Bodor, the owner and co-designer of the new room.

I’m not sure what playwright Erik Champney is up to with “Dead Brains.” The evening — about 70 minutes without an intermission — is replete with more than enough sex and violence for a gritty HBO episode of one of that channel’s series. Self-mutilation, bondage and domination are all abundant in the story and the action. The milieu of the story is the contemporary art world.

As such, the play hints at being a satire without being billed as such. There are a very few genuine laughs provoked by grisly banter between the two lead characters. However, the title is accompanied by a tag line below the title: “A Psychosexual Thriller.” Maybe Champney is straight-ahead serious about the possibilities of sex and violence and art in the theater. In which case, there must be a slot for him in a Hollywood television writers room, at the very least.

There is plenty of sex, violence and domination.

The reason to see this show, if you do, is the acting. Jon Pratt is excellent as the manipulative, bloodthirsty artist. If the story of our current whack-job government is brought to the screen, Pratt has to be cast as the radical Republican firebrand Matt Gaetz. There’s quite a resemblance.

Charity Schubert is a delight as Philly, the redeemed-to-be-damned focus of much of Henry’s emotional manipulation. She wrings arch and tragic and quite mad from the role.

There are three scenes and three characters, making this a theatrical milk stool, if you will. It could be quite wobbly if the actors weren’t fully settled into their roles, under the skilled guidance of playwright-director Champney.

The third character and second object of manipulation is Corey, played by Dylan Godwin. I don’t want to give away the plot, other than to say Corey is a lonely new arrival in New York City, working in Manhattan as a shoe salesman. Godwin is quite good, too, and the performances are all nuanced to achieve balance within unbalance.

The action centers around the contemporary art world.

The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., chose “Dead Brains” for The National AIDS Fund/Council of Fashion Designers/Vogue Initiative Award for Playwriting.

The show will be running every Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. through February. According to the Web site, tickets are $30.81. Baker Falls Knitting Factory is located at 101 Avenue A, between Sixth and Seventh Streets.

DiLauro is a playwright and poet and roving culture correspondent for The Village Sun.


  1. Carol Frances Yost Carol Frances Yost February 1, 2024

    First, I think “whack job government” (“whack” means “kill”) is meant to be “wack job government,” unless the person refers to the murderous aspects of US operations, as in its 100% support for Israel as it tries to wipe out the Palestinians, and all the unjust wars it has waged. It could really be called “wack” (“crazy”) job, with Donald Trump and his MAGA-ites running around.

    I can’t believe this is an art-world piece. And it won a major prize? I’m a playwright myself (by the way, I’d like to learn about DiLauro’s work). That doesn’t make me an expert.

  2. Stephen DiLauro Stephen DiLauro January 25, 2024

    Looking at the photos, the resemblance between actor and politician is less pronounced than I thought. Nonetheless, Pratt would be an excellent choice to play Gaetz, I’m sure.

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