It’s Wagner on steroids (and with burlesque) as ‘The Ring’ hits Bushwick

It’s Wagner on steroids (and with burlesque) as ‘The Ring’ hits Bushwick
Photo by Sue Kessler

Forget holy deities — the gods of 1980s-era America were World Wrestling Federation stars.

At least that’s the case in a Bushwick theater’s production of the 19th-century opera, “Das Rheingold,” or “Ring” cycle — a decidedly down-market version of the very same opera that the Met is staging right now.

Of course, there’s a lot less pretension in Performance Lab 115’s ’80s rock ’n’ roll version of Wagner’s classic work (how can there not be when the immortal characters are pro-wrestlers and the lowly humans are represented by janitors?).

“I grew up with 1980s pro-wrestling and these characters are as bombastic as gods,” explained director Dave Dalton. “Pro-wrestlers are a great contemporary equivalent to Wagner’s gods because they have such big egos.”

And ego is central to Wagner’s main theme: the quest for power.

”The storyline can serve as a metaphor for American foreign policy in the 1980s,” Dalton said. “There is that central dilemma involving bending the rules to do what one believes will be good for the world.”

Americana characters and setting aren’t the only things that make Performance Lab 115’s “The Ring Cycle” distinct. Instead of classical music, this Brooklyn opera is filled with classic ’80s metal, like “Rock You Like a Hurricane” by The Scorpions. There will also be burlesque dancers replacing the traditional production’s mermaid characters.

And unlike Wagner’s “Das Rheingold,” which is comprised of four parts that can total a 17-hour long performance, this modern take on parts one and two is only two hours long.

”We encourage multiplicity of interpretations of classic works,” Dalton said. “Because most people will probably never get to see the full version of the Ring Cycle, so we wanted to make it more accessible.”

Coincidentally, Performance Lab 115’s “The Ring Cycle” is opening only five days after The Metropolitan Opera House’s $16-million performance of “Das Rheingold” closes for the season. This Brooklyn version’s budget may be a lot smaller, but its eccentricities (and $15 tickets) make it worth watching. And make sure to look out for Performance Lab 115’s version of parts three and four down the road.

”We’re working on developing a script for the final two parts of ‘Ring’ right now,” Dalton said. “We hope The Met runs parts three and four of ‘Das Rheingold’ at the same time we do our version.”

Performance Lab 115 employs artistic license to the fullest, as its production of Wagner’s “The Ring Cycle” trades mermaids for burlesque beauties.
Photo by Sue Kessler

“The Ring Cycle: Part 1 and 2” at The Bushwick Starr (297 Starr St. between Wyckoff and Irving avenues in Bushwick, no phone), Oct. 14-30, Thursday through Sunday at 8 pm. In previews Oct. 7-10. Tickets are $15. For info, visit www.thebushwickstarr.org.