PRESS: NY Times – ‘David’s Friend’ Dances Through New York’s Disco Nights

Watching “David’s Friend,” a feisty and funny one-woman show written and performed by Nora Burns, is a bit like sitting down, slightly tipsy, and playing a bunch of your scratched but beloved 45s from the late 1970s and early 1980s on your record player — if you’ve kept yours or joined the blooming back-to-vinyl movement.

Although its focus is the story of her fast (in all senses) friendship with the man named in the title, whom she met when they were teenagers in Boston, Ms. Burns’s show, performed only through Feb. 5 at the Club at La MaMa, is also a heady dip into the years when New York night life was at its dizzying, decadent height; when Bianca and Andy and company were thronging Studio 54 and Xenon and Danceteria; when Details was a magazine printed on unglossy paper and filled with, well, details about anything and everybody that was cool.

If you lived through even a part of it, you’ll be swimming merrily alongside her in memories — although, as Ms. Burns ruefully recalls, many of those wild, unforgettable nights may have been fogged to the point of obscurity by the ingestion of illicit substances. Oh well, clearly for Ms. Burns, it was worth it — and fortunately she kept a diary.

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Photo: Patrick McMullan Company

If you were too young, or too old, or too sensible to partake with the abandon Ms. Burns and her best pal did, her odyssey will bring alive the period and its pleasures (and poisons) with pungent animation. Recalling the story of her and David’s raucous years of dancing and drugging until daylight, she says: “We did not stay home. No one did, you did not stay home, ever.”

Why would Ms. Burns sit home knitting when, after falling in love with a) gay men, b) disco and, most of all, c) David — platonically — she moved to New York and found herself in the heady dome of pleasure that the city then was? She hurtled here immediately after high school to go to college, ostensibly, but soon after David joined her, she says, “school was interfering with my night life so I decided to take a year off.”

“From school,” she adds, perhaps unnecessarily.

Skinny as a sylph, clad in sleek black, her blond hair doing a bit of disco dancing of its own, Ms. Burns, a founding member of the comedy troupes Unitard and the Nellie Olesons, flips through her memories in roughly chronological order. She is aided only by a necessary companion — a D.J. spinning disco classics, Billy Hough, who occasionally takes part in the show — and vintage photographs of New York in her (and its?) night-life heyday, and, of course, of herself and David, whom she accurately describes as a man of uncommon beauty.

Directed by Adrienne Truscott, Ms. Burns’s delivery is crisp, wry and dry. And while her story takes a few meandering digressions, that’s only natural, considering the gleefully reckless way she and David careered through their 20s, without much thought given to a future career.

She stripped; he hustled. She was more the girl on the fringe of the party; he was a social and sexual magnet. Together they mostly romped by night and slept by day in the gritty playground the city once was, a playground that, as she observes with more than a hint of nostalgia, has been scrubbed free of grime now: “That craggy, dangerous, exciting city we came to in the ’70s and ’80s to escape our families, tourists and the wealthy has become a safe haven for families, tourists and the wealthy.”

“People aren’t afraid of the blacks, the Jews and the gays anymore,” she cracks. “Well, not the Jews and the gays.”

It is not spoiling much to reveal that David did not survive the AIDS epidemic. After just a few descriptions of their scrappy, joyful, sex-and-drug-fueled sorties, you can pretty much tell where this ride will end. But if the unhappy conclusion of David’s foreshortened life can be foretold, the retelling of it is a continual pleasure.

By coincidence, the night David died in 1993, Ms. Burns was dancing on a speaker on Fire Island. You can be sure he would have appreciated it.

  • NYT Critics’ Pick
La MaMa Experimental Theatre – The Club
74A E. Fourth St.
E. Village
646-430-5374
lamama.org
Category Off Off Broadway, Play, Solo Performance
Runtime 60 min.
Credits Written and performed by Nora Burns; Directed by Adrienne Truscott
Cast Nora Burns
Opened January 27, 2017
Closing Date February 5, 2017
This information was last updated: Jan. 29, 2017
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