Chang in a Void Moon



1982-PRESENT. CHANG IN A VOID MOON began in 1979 as a 20 minute film. The first 36 episodes were performed one a week at The Pyramid Club from June 1982 to April 1983. Episodes were also performed in Zurich, Munich and Berlin in '83.Subsequent episodes were performed at Limbo Theater and The Pyramid Club in 1984 and 1985, in 1988 at the Performing Garage and The Kitchen and in 1995 at La Mama and the Kitchen.From the beginning, the working format has been: Day 1 - write script; Days 2, 4, 6 - rehearse; and Day 7 - perform. The schedule then follows this order for as many weeks as are planned. Helena White, Ruth Gray,Frank Maya,Donna Herman and Madeline Barchevska were the five original members.

Episode #59-Berliner Festspielhaus, 2004. Photo:Peter Cunningham









1. PERFORMANCE HISTORY-Weekly Episodes #1- 36: The Pyramid Club, New York, NY 1982-1983 6 Episodes: Cafe Einstein, Berlin. Germany,Gallerie Dany Keller, Munich, Germany,Neues Kunstverein, Zurich, Switzerland, FALL 1983. Episodes #37 40: The Pyramid Club, New York, NY 1984 Episode #39: The Bottom Line, New York, NY 1985 Episodes #40 42: Limbo Theatre, New York, NY 1985 Episode #43: The Performing Garage, New York, NY 1988 Episode #44: The Kitchen, New York, NY 1988 Episode #45: The Performing Garage, New York, NY 1988 Episode #46: La Mama, New York, NY. 1995 Episode #47-50: The Kitchen, New York, Spring 1997

Episode #51-53: The Kitchen, NY. 1997

Episode #54-56: La Mama,NY. Nov. 2003

Episode #57: La Mama,NY. August,2004

Episode #58: Berliner Festspielhaus, Dec. 2004

Episode #59: Rubin Museum, NYC. Spring 2005

2. John Jesurun’s


by Ronald K. Fried

THEATRE REPORTS (The Drama Review (T 98) SUMMER 1983

John Jesurun is an independent film maker who, lacking the money to continue producing his films, decided instead to present his scripts on stage in what he describes as a “living film serial”. The first nine installments of Jesurun’s weekly’s Chang in a void moon were presented in the summer of 82 at the Pyramid Club on Avenue A in New York City. These initial episodes were repeated in September and October of 82, since then Chang has continued with a fresh script written each week, a few days before the performance. By March 83, more than 20 installments had been presented. Each episode runs approximately 30 minutes and is performed twice every Monday evening, at 9.30 and 11 o’clock.

the Pyramid Club is a nightclub and bar with a small stage in the rear where musicians and performance artists regularly appear. The elevated stage is approximately six feet deep, fifteen feet wide, and three feet high. The performance area for Chang extend in front of the stage to where the audience is seated either on folding chairs, the floor, or at the tables that line the club’s walls. The performance space and the area used for seating are otherwise used for dancing. A trademark for the Pyramid Club is a raised seating with tables and chairs along one wall - a design that is said to give the atmosphere of a 1930s-style cabaret.

Chang in a void moon concerns a constantly expanding, loosely defined international family catalyzed by enigmatic, nefarious Chang , an oriental man (portrayed by a woman) of indeterminate age with vague connections to the worlds of record production, munitions, manufacturing, drug traffic, uranium mines, art collecting, archeology and clandestine operations of all kinds. The other characters - all of whom are either Chang’s friends, relatives or employees - communicate through an elaborate system of impersonations, put-ons, paranoia, gags, outrageous lies, intimidation and bluffs.

A wide range of place names are freely dropped throughout, and the action moves back and forth through such locales as Paris, New York, Saigon, East Berlin, Prague, a “jungle necropolis”, a fictitious locale known as “Escondida”, and Greenland, where a house suddenly collapses because (as the audience later learns) it was built on ice.

Seemingly set in the present, Chang - especially in later episodes - crosscuts backwards and forwards in time within single episodes, resting in, among other places, Berlin in 1945, and London during the sixties.

Brief interludes of dialogues in foreign languages are presented throughout Chang. These include Spanish, Polish, Chinese, Japanese, German, French and Danish. In addition, the conversation sometimes begins in one language and drifts into another.

The sense of shifting time and place - and a host of other effects, including a sailboat race, a plane crash, a helicopter rescue, a baloon ride, a trip in a raft, a floating arrow, a floating saxophone, a suspended guitar played by disembodied hands, an apparent decapitation, a levitating table, a glowing meteorite, and the moving walls of a collapsing mansion - are achieved by the simplest possible manipulations of the limited resources and effects available at the Pyramid Club. The sailboat race, for example, is recreated by actors holding large, sail-shaped sheets that are filled with wind by off-stage fans; the actors shout lines over recorded sound of wind and sea and a slide of stars in a nighttime sky is projected overhead. The helicopter rescue is accomplished by sound effects used to recreate the necessary mechanical noise, and by fans to recreate the movement of air swept by rotating blades. Performers appeared to be pulled up into the helicopter through a trap door on the elevated stage, which represents the bottom of the helicopter itself.

Both the staging and writing in Chang use techniques usually associated with film. The sripts abounds in “jump cuts” in which scenes begin and end abruptly in mid-sentence - or even in mid-word - and other scenes begin instantly, with cinematic speed, in another area of the stage. Often scenes will, while in progress, suddenly jump ahead or backward in time, often repeating whole chunks of dialogue verbatim. These effects give the impression of film speeded up or edited together in a jumble fashion. At one point, a scene is repeated verbatim five times, but emphasis is placed on different words and phrases with each repetition.

Visual film-like effects are numerous, especially in the presentation of various shifting perspectives : Scenes are designed to recreate various camera angles available to a film maker. In one instance, a scene with cast members seated around a table looks as if the audience were viewing the action from above. This is accomplished by turning the table, chairs and performers on their sides : The actors rest upon specially constructed platforms designed to be invisible to the audience. In a similar effect, a swimming pool and diving board are also seen as if from above; the impact of a pan shot is recreated when the actors revolve in unison during another scene. In each case, the audience is treated as if it is a motion picture camera viewing the action from whatever Jesurun thinks is the best point of view.

At other moments, film and video tape are used within the live performance. Characters are presented in pre-recorded video segments, timed to coincide with the live performers, who exchange dialogue with the recorded images. The pre-recorded performances - what Jesurun calls “video heads” - depict only the actors’faces. The video screens are placed vertically to accomodate the shape of the actors’heads. Video heads are placed at eye-level with the live performers to enhance the feeling of conversation between live and recorded actors.

The actors’general tone is deadpan - another quality derived from film - because Jesurun strives to achieve a Hitchcock-like delivery, with little emotion. At times the actors behave in a fashion Jesurun calls “super-real” - they speak in conversational tones usually associated with film acting, rather than stage acting.

Chang is played by a woman made up to appear vaguely oriental. Little is directly stated about Chang’s past, but from the outset, he is the center of the others’ speculation; they seem simultaneously attracted and repelled by Chang’s greed, elusiveness, snobbishness and his ability to seem always present, always in control. Though Chang’s power is taken seriously within the context of the play, his omniscience also seems like a running gag because each of the unending flow of disasters is somehow - within the drama’s oversized paranoid logic - attributed to Chang’s insidious machinations.

Each episode consists of disjointed scenes and seemingly unrelated conversations. “Did you ever notice Chang’s hands ?” one character observes. “His hands are weird and ugly, hard-boiled. The hands of an antelope.” “Exactly, “comes the response, “but without the grace.”

Action begins in the home of Contessa Isabella, a morphine addict who was married to Chang for a year in Saigon in the 1940s. Also present are the Contessa’s daughter Svetlana; Svetlana’s husband Antonio, Chang’s rival; Picablo, the disaffected son of Svetlana and Antonio; Theresa, their irrelevant and outspoken maid; and a mysterious character who is invisible to the spectators - the Infanta. Represented on stage only by a tiny, empty, child-sized chair the Infanta was adopted by Contessa Isabella when the Contessa found her singing on the streets of Rio de Janeiro. The Infanta “could be seven, she could 40,” the Contessa says. “No one knows. I never asked.” The Infanta’s constant drumming is often heard in the background of the drama.

The characters are each marked by a personal set of obsessions. Svetlana, for example, is always wondering about the possible meaning of a garden full of morning glories that seems to follow her wherever she goes. she also constantly re-interprets and redefines natural phenomena of all kinds. For example, when someone remarks on a sky full of stars , Svetlana responds. “It’s nothing but a psycheledic shack.”

The quality of the Contessa’s relations with Chang serves as a summary of other relationships in the serial. “Don’t forget”, the Contessa reminds her daughter, “Chang tried to murder me five times...When I divorced him, he wiped out half of my household staff with poison ginseng shampoo, and then he had the nerve to walk off with most of my art collection... I had to send to the Philippines for a whole new staff.”

And so the pattern of slapstick menace is set. poisonings bombings, phoney plots, last-minute escapes, escapes from within escapes, plane crashes, rescues, hallucinations, a railroad car filled with morphine, corrupt doctors, corrupt hospitals, disapearances, duplicity, constant betrayals, an ingenious recording engineer, the destruction of a university, the destruction of several priceless works of art - all are among the elements of the continuing, mocking over-developed and convoluted plot that shows no sign of ending. (John Jesurun intends to keep Chang running at the Pyramid Club into the spring of 83.)


A FEW FACTS- Episodes 1-58

Antonio and Svetlana are married. They have a son, Picablo. The Contessa Isabella was Svetlana's mother. Octavio and Coahuila were the Contessa's parents. Charlotte was their maid. Theresa was the Contessa's maid.

Dr. Sabartés was Picablo's attending doctor at Blue Oaks Psychiatric Institute where Picablo was sent by his parents to prevent him from entering a public college. Chang drugged Sabartés with a truth serum and Picablo was released.

Almondine is a recording engineer and a collegue of Chang's. John is Svetlana's half brother and an amnesiac. Lanaria is John's half sister, not related to Svetlana.

The Contessa adopted the Infanta after seeing her sing for money in the streets of Rio de Janeiro. The Infanta's age is unknown. She could be seven, she could be forty.

In 1937 Chang met the Contessa in Copenhagen. The Contessa's parents did not approve of Chang but were lured into a series of fraudulent business transactions.

In 1938 Chang ambushed a car carrying Octavio and Coahuila with machine gun fire, killing Octavio. Coahuila survided the attack. In 1945 Chang attempted to fatally sedate Coahuila and gain control of her fortune with the help of Sabartes and Mrs. Fangitu, a Berlin Bank executive. Unbeknownst to Chang, Coahuila escaped to Greenland disguised as one of her own household maids.

In 1946 Chang married the Contessa in Saigon. He tried to kill her five times. They were divorced a year later. The Contessa was a morphine addict and from time to time Chang kept her supplied.

Coahuila died in 1955. The Contessa Isabella died in 1969. Before her death she gave her diamonds to Theresa and asked her to leave her family's employ. The diamonds were given to the Contessa by the Blind King.

Theresa disappeared. She travelled to New York. Maggie is a lawyer sent by the blind king to recover the diamonds. She was hit by a car. Because of a plane crash half of the characters seem to have disappeared.

Almondine, Fangitu and Wilson, an explosives expert, destroyed six of Chang's homes in different parts of the world. They did this with a sound created from an obelisk on black plastic and stratocaster-the Coltrane Warwick Note (created in Cairo in 1922 by Chang and Almondine).

Before she died, Coahuila bequeathed her poems to her maid Charlotte and asked her to wait until 1960 to sell them. Charlotte altered them slightly and sold them to Almondine who sold them to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones (Paint It Black, Satisfaction, She Loves You, Sgt. Pepper, etc.). John, a military pilot, crashed near the South China Sea. While on what he thought was a commercial mission for Antonio he was captured and held prisoner behind the Bamboo Curtain for twenty years. It was later revealed that his plane contained secret armaments and not the four tons of record albums Antonio told him it contained.

Antonio incinerated the Public College containing a number of students, professors, priests and nuns. The Contessa seized Antonio's attic full of Krugerands. A trade was arranged -- the return of the Krugerands for John's release from prison. Chang released John in return for Antonio's promise of the destruction of Chicago. Half the city of Chicago was destroyed (April 1985).

Episode #43. The body of Santa Claus and a team of frozen reindeer was found near the North Pole along with thousands of gifts scattered over the distance of four miles. Antonio claimed responsibility and is searching to destroy the escaped elves who may be hiding among colonies of penguins at the South Pole.

At the annual Hendrix dinner, the decision was made to kill Chang by "Mahima Incident" at the baptismal mass of Theresa and Picablo's child. The mass murder would be accomplished by the use of the Mahiama arrow - the only thing that is fatal to Chang. Chang arrived at the dinner late and attempted a hostile take-over of the Peters family tar-pit futures. He was voted down. Violent insurrections surrounding the Peters estate forced the entire group to escape to the Tooth Fields of Aberdeen where the family home is constructed entirely of teeth. The Infanta was found clutching a hand in the remains of Chicago, Dr. Sabartes is trying to revive it.

Episode #44. Fifty dentists are repairing the decaying tooth field house. It was discovered that Theresa is hiding two babies not one. (Picablo and Theresa's) and (Theresa and Antonio's). Two hands rather than one were also discovered to be seperately hidden. The Contessa asked General Matamosca for the head of Antonio. Ann Josefina has arrived to recover the body of her mother Charlotte (the Contessa's maid) who was dragged through the ice by the tourmaline meteorite. The elves, already angry at Antonio's Santa Claus assasination were persuaded by Coahuila to attend the mass. The baptismal mass was held, but ended in gunfire and Hendrix detonations.

Episode #45. (March 1988)

The elves have continued to attack and all but destroyed the ancestral tooth house. Everyone is desperately hiding in the gutted rooms of the house, the elves are running wild searching for the family and their friends.

Chang is trapped beneath the dining room table which is now hanging from the dining room cieling after a major elf offensive. The group has decided to finally drop the table and kill Chang.

*Episode #46 (Jan.1995)

The elf offensive continues and the ancestral Tooth House is in ruins. Paralized in fear,the group doesn't dare kill Chang.

Sabartes recieves a note to meet Almondine in the basement of the Tooth House.She finds that the huge tanks of Mescaline stored hundreds of feet beneath the Tooth House mescaline have exploded and leached into the soil. She also discovers Almondine's prize possesion,the radioactive Tourmaline Meteorite. She secretly takes it for herself. Theresa's babies have been secreted out of the Tooth Fields in a fifty pound block of Gouda cheese. Sabartes,the Seminarina, and the Infanta escape. Before she escapes, the Infanta strikes a deal with the elves to save the lives of her friends on condition that they never return to the Tooth Fields again.

Episode #47

The Contessa is discovered secretly choreographing a dance for the Paris Opera with her two dancers Baby Hokaido and Bunzel.

The Untied Nations Beekeepers arrive to escort the Chang Gang out of the tooth fields.The United States is the only country that will accept them. Sabartes,the Infanta,the Seminarina and Antontio attempt an escape by car but it goes over a cliff and Antonio disappears.Almondine,who herself has been absent for the entire period of the Elf War returns just as everyone is leaving. She is branded a traitor and baguette and put on trial by her friends. All attempts to avert the deportation to Baltimore fail and the group waits on a"barren toothy field of darkness and huckleberries" for a boat.


After being ejected from the Tooth Fields,Almondine, Sabartés, the Infanta and the Bishop set off in a rowboat. Chang and Fangitu set off in a bookcase to avoid the Untied Nations Beekeeper boats. Antonio,Svetlana and her grandfather Octavio, have already reached the United States.They drive from one end of the country to the other and end up in Baltimore. Antonio reveals that the only thing he now owns is a Macdonald' s in Sarasota. Coincidentally,Sarasota is the location of the bank containing the Infanta's $250 million account. A chase ensues between the rowboat, the bookcase and the car to reach Sarasota first. Mrs. Fangitu has an affair with the Seminarina who is gay. Gradually everyone is pulled into a spiral nebula, colliding simultanously.

Episode # 49

The affair of Dr. Ibañez and Mrs. Fangitu comes to an end in 1944.Both bank executives, they dethrone the head of the Berlin bank,Mrs. Treadwell. Chang takes over and together with Fangitu they swindle Octavio out of his fortune.Meanwhile in 1995,Picablo has taken over his father's Macdonald's in Sarasota. he hires Mrs.Treadwell(recently fired from a Cuban bank) as manager. Picablo's mother Svetlana refuses to work at the Macdonald's but eventually becomes a workaholic. The Infanta arrives with Maggie,her Swiss lawyer in search of her $250 million bank account. The Changs also arrive in Sarasota.They say they have arrived to see the Baby Hokiado and Bunzel Dance Company at the Sarasota Dance festival but it's obvious that they are after the Infanta's bank account.

Episode #50(May 1,1995) To solve everyone's problems Dr. Sabartes invites the entire group of disgusted,penniless characters to Blue Oaks, the site of her Mind Institute. She conducts a psychological jam session for several weeks with the intent of locatating the Infanta's bank account.Svetlana's amnesiac half brother John leaves the water running in all the Institute's bathrooms. A huge flood ensues during the Bishop's quotation of "Rolling Down the River". The entire building is swept away by the force of the water.

Episode #51(March 25,1997)

Dr. Sabartes' Mind Institute has been flooded and destroyed. The characters escape by various means, helicopter, raft,etc. Sabartes escapes in one of her Sieg Heilicopters taking along Svetlana,Picablo and Almondine and the Baby Hokaido and Bunzel Dance Company. Chang eventually brings everyone to his estate,Peckerwood. Octavio and Coahuila, the Contessa's dead parents come to Peckerwood to survey the proceedings and shoot Chang's dog Munchausen.Mrs. Fangitu continues to pursue her old lover Dr. Ibanez to lure him into her fashion business.he refuses. Chang attempts to buy Picablo's priceless Tar Pit futures.Picablo refuses. John's half sister Lenaria eats Chang's entire peyote collection. Everyone is invited by Chang to a state dinner. In the middle of the dinner Chang suddenly and illegally invokes a "Hendrix Dinner"( A Hendrix Dinner is a meeting to discuss topics of the greatest importance. All characters must previously agree to this by a vote.) To everyone's horror he suddenly announces the marriage of the Contessa's ward,the Infanta to Dr. Ibanez. Chang then offers each of the characters millions of dollars to leave his estate forever.Most take the money and stay anyway. The wedding is planned for the following week. All characters are required to attend whether they approve or not.

EPISODE #52-1997

CHANG hosts the wedding of the Infanta to Ibanez at his estate Peckerwood. Present at the wedding are many world figures including a United States senator. The senator and the Seminarina meet secretly in one of the many pagodas on Chang’s estate.The wedding has been contrived by Antonio,Chang and Ibanez to defraud the Infanta of her substantial inheritance. At the last moment the Infanta changes her mind and marries the dancer Hokaido of the Baby Hokaido and Bunzel Dance Company.

EPISODE #53 (NOV. 2003) The Infanta’s marriage is annulled a day later. All are now trapped on Chang’s estate. Lolita, appears at the estate and announces that she is the heretofore unknown first wife of Chang.She brings along Sumimazcenka whom she claims is her son by Chang. She relates that in 1946 Chang was fearful of his then ten year old son Sumimazcenka. He killed him by letting him drive across a frozen lake inn Sabartes’s Hispano-Suiza convertible. Later, Sumimazcenka became the lover of Octavio’s wife Coahuilla. Plans for the expulsion of Lenearia from Peckerwood are begun after she eats Chang’s ruby collection. A search begins for the platinum plated diamond studded head of Dr. Sabartes’s ancestor Count Pocahanta-Garbonzca y Sabartes Wilfredo. Treadwell tries to escape with the Infanta and Ibanez. The Seminarina and Maggie, the Swiss lawyer, try to stop them by firing SCUD missles at their car. Stray missles result in several burning pagodas on the estate. Sabartes steals one of Chang’s Blackhawk helicopters and rescues Treadwell, Ibanez and the Infanta. She drops them into Swine Lake which empties into the treacherous sea of Aguilleras.


Chang officially and ceremonially expels Lenearia on a raft

Chang invites everyone for a cruise of the Sea of Aguilleras on his aircraft carrier sized yacht. He then leaves by helicopter with the captain and abandons them. Ibanez, the Infanta, Fangitu and Treadwell adrift in the Sea of Aguilleras cross paths with the others on Chang’s yacht but are refused rescue. Sumimazcenka flees Chang’s estate to his protectors, the Pet Shop Boys in Garbonzca City. In revenge for her death on the lake Maggie kills Sumiazcenka in Garbonzca City. (The Muerte Segundo). Sumimazcenka sneaks back into Peckerwood with the Friends of the Infanta. He plans to kill Chang while diguised as the character Tony in their presentation of “West Side Story”. Instead Chang has him shot simultaneously with the killing of Tony in the final scene of the musical.Chang sends Sumimazcenka’s body back to Garbonzca City but the Pet Shop Boys send it back on the Raft of the Elefanta which is carrying Lenearia.


Several centuries earlier Chang has arranged the marriage of the Contessa to th e son of the Krimson King. The group arrives to witness the ceremonies. Gloria(child of Theresa and Antonio and Bambino Jesú( child of Theresa and Picablo) suddenly appear after being hidden at the court since their births in 1988/9.They are being given as a wedding gift to the Contessa and the Krimson King. They refuse to leave the court and Chang suddenly calls a Hendrix Dinner to vote to remove them as gifts. The Hendrix cinner dissolves into chaos as the pit-bulls and missile launchers are released. The Krimson King cancels the wedding. In retaliation Chang destroys the Krimson Kingdom and its king from the air. He burns all the kingdom’s pagodas but saves one as a gift for Isabella. It sits on her Escondida estate.

EPISODE#56 –August 2004

Chang, Fangitu,Almondine,Svetlana,Wilson arrive in New York for the Republican Convention. Chang is snubbed by Mr. Rumsfeld. Antonio has an affair with Almondine in the Ritz Carlton.Chang arranges that Lolita, his former wife, be invited to sing at the convention closing ceremony. She sings “War Pigs”.Dr. Sabartes is stuck in Faluja selling rocket launchers and misses the convention.

EPISODE #57 (Nov.2004)

Chang holds a crisis meeting in Berlin only to find that the Berlin Wall which he bankrolled has disappeared. Faced with drastic financial losses the group decides to sell the Infanta to marry into the Imperial Family of the Unedited States. They send her to Houston by Federal Express and are assured the continuation of their lifestyles.

EPISODE #58 (Nov.2004)

Chang holds a crisis meeting in Berlin only to find that the Berlin Wall which he bankrolled has disappeared. Faced with drastic financial losses the group decides to sell the Infanta to marry into the Imperial Family of the Unedited States. Chang has called a Hendrix dinner in Berlin. Chang tries to buy Picablo and Theresa’s baby and its inheritance in the priceless Tar Pits. Picablo refuses. Coahuilla has had Harry Potter assassinated. Her great grandson Picablo is revolted. He spends half a million Euros on Lenin drawings. Coahuilla’s maid Charlotte continues her affair with Coahuilla’s husband Octavio. Dr. Sabartes remains stuck in Falluja. Almondine has been exiled from France by Chirac. Chang’s son Sumimazenca(whom he had killed) continues his fiftieth year of rehearsals for Chang’s funeral. He has been rehearsing for fifty years. Fangitu and Almondine arrange to kidnap the Infanta and send her to Houston with the help of Almondine’s old lover Wilson. At the Hendrix dinner,the family officially sends the Infanta to the United States to marry into the imperial family thus assuring their future prosperity. Antonio is pleased and his son Picablo is revolted.


4. The Village Voice-May 17, 1988

Musicals & Monsters

By: Michael Feingold

Chang in a Void Moon, the surrealistic soap opera of which John Jesurun has just offered three new episodes, proves that childishness and exaggerated foolery aren’t incompatible with a decidedly serious vision of the world; also that an artist can be visually austere in a contemporary, minimalist fashion without being glum à la Trevor Nunn.

Where Jesurun’s “serious” pieces usually center on a single act of violence in the past, Chang is an unremitting stream of violent acts offstage and violent verbal assaults on. They’re made light instead of lugubrious by their fantasticated quality, which encourages us simultaneously to fear the infinite power of Chang’s rich, unscrupulous characters, and to laugh at them as part of an outrageous cosmic joke. The melted Kruegerrands, the destruction of half of Chicago, the notorious speculation in tar-pit futures, the turning of Santa’s elves into fugitives trying desperately to disguise themselves as penguins—these nonsensical events are a consistent half-step away from the daily headlines, just far enough to be comic. Thrown at us from Jesurun’s style, with its echoes and wacky verbal deformations, they drive you to that wild moment where laughter, helpless and uncontrollable, equals freedom.

A major part of the humor is in the contrast between the fearsome events and the prim, almost ascetic physicality. Jesurun himself opens each episode with a summary of prior events, delivered in an offhand mumble that makes them seem even more outrageous. The actors are arrayed in small groups around a variety of Jesurun’s white rectangles—some seen as if from overhead, some at our level. There’s almost no walking and little movement of anything but heads and hands, yet the tale gets communicated. Some of the cast act up a storm, others just ride on their personal mannerisms. Chang, the evil, appetitive creature whose greed drives the plot, is played by a duo—thin, androgynous, aloof John Hagen and rotund, intense, seething Donna Herman. Though many of the characters have been killed, they continue to assert themselves and affect the story. The stunning, absurd contradictions are part of the charm: In the last episode the conspirators were simultaneously assassinating Chang and offering him/her dessert—surely noblesse oblige on an epic scale. I can’t wait for episode 46, to find out if he/she survives.

5. JOHN HAGAN ON John Jesurun.

ArtForum, Oct, 1999, by John Hagan

Chang in a Void Moon, John Jesurun's "living film serial," played at the Pyramid Club, at 101 Avenue A, every Monday night at nine-thirty and eleven for a year, starting in June 1982. It was perhaps the first of many "episodic plays" to appear in New York downtown theater, and it came about when Jesurun, lacking funds to produce his film scripts, decided to stage them instead.

The decision to offer me the role of Chang, a nefarious businessman with international connections and "diplomatic immunity in 52 countries," resulted from Jesurun's desire to double-cast the part in order to relieve the actress playing it from the weekly responsibility. The production formula rarely varied: We performed on Monday; Jesurun wrote a new script on Tuesday; we met at his apartment to read it on Wednesday and Friday. Basic staging was done at the Pyramid on Sunday, often to be modified up until the moments before the show began. The next day, the process would start again.

Each episode consisted of many short scenes (and the occasional marathon one), with repartee sometimes beginning or ending midsentence in filmlike jump cuts. Rich in description and allusions (history, geography, rock bands), Chang's demented dialogue was also highly structured, in almost musical fashion, with constant repetitions and variations - making the language as difficult to pin down as the elusive Chang himself. The scripts outrageously traversed time and space, and sheets were posted backstage during the show, reminding us not only what scene was next, but what country and century it took place in.

If the scripts brooked no spatiotemporal restraints, the real-life practicalities of space, time, and budget necessitated, and may even have fostered, a simple and rather ingenious stagecraft, based on the use of large white foamcore boards. Each episode contained a number of "cinematic" effects, the most famous of which were "aerial shots" created by placing actors on their sides, stomachs, and backs atop specially built platforms, so that the audience felt as if they were watching the action from a bird's-eye view. Between scenes, actors scrambled to new positions. "Fast and flat" was Jesurun's preferred acting style, which went well with the minimalist staging, and while there were exceptions to this method, a minimum of emotion at maximum speed could be helpful in getting through a typical script.

As I recall it from a distance, we performed amid a buzz of drink ordernd conversations, in a haze of cigarette smoke from offstage and on, and with spectators cramming the entrance that separated us from the front room where drag queens danced on the bar to pulsating music.

After a year, Jesurun moved on to stage longer works in larger spaces. But sporadically since then (most recently, but not finally, in 1997), he has produced new episodes of Chang at other clubs and performance spaces around town, lending a slightly nomadic quality to a show that many will forever associate with the "cocktail lounge" on Avenue A.

John Hagan is an actor and writer based in New York.

COPYRIGHT 1999 Artforum International Magazine, Inc. in association with The Gale Group and LookSmart.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group



John Jesurun’s Chang in a Void Moon is one of the weirdest, most endearing, longest-running cult shows in the recent history of New York theater. In started in the early ‘80s as a weekly serial performed late weekend nights in the back room of the Pyramid Club on Avenue A in the East Village, back when people like Keith Haring and Ann Magnuson and John Sex were all running around making fun crazy theater in the East Village and Madonna only wished she could be as cool as them. Chang was this nutty avant-garde soap opera whose densely verbal dialogue was spoken by an earnest corps of deadpan performers. The scenes were often very short, separated by blackouts, and frequently staged as if the audience were viewing them from above or below or sideways, which was simply a matter of turning the table and few chairs that served as set pieces on their sides. Jesurun and his company picked up a loyal following, and he started writing plays that they would perform, mostly at La Mama. Episodes of Chang became fewer and farther between. Now, for the first time since 1995, three new episodes have popped up at the La Mama Annex.

I went Saturday night November 1. It really felt like a family reunion of a particular tribe of theater maniacs. The audience was full of downtown luminaries: John Kelly, the Wooster Group’s Kate Valk, Nicky Paraiso, Ralph Pena from Ma-Yi Theater, Dixon Place’s Ellie Covan, the dancer Rob Besserer. The cast of Chang has expanded tremendously from a handful of actors to 20 actors, 3 dancers (Neil Greenberg and two of his company), and live music by Barbez, a five-piece band with four singers. Three of the original cast are still doing it: Donna Herman (she and John Hagan play the title character, in matching tuxedoes), Ruth Gray, and Helena White. Longtime Jesurun stalwarts Valerie Charles and Sanghi Choi (nee Wagner) were in the house, along with an incredible cavalcade of downtown theater veterans, including Black-Eyed Susan (formerly of the Ridiculous Theatrical Company), Greg Mehrten (former Mabou Mines), David Cale, Mary Shultz, Ching Valdes-Aran, Rebecca Moore, and Anna Kohler (formerly of the Wooster Group). And as always there was the Infanta, played by an empty chair.

Chang has a ridiculously complicated backstory and tends to hurtle backwards and forwards in time with outlandish plot turns, all acted out with virtually no scenery. It’s really theater of language, the actors conjuring it all up with an earnest delivery that is often hilarious in its campy elevated diction. Looking at the show, I realized that there is a historical continuum that connects Jesurun’s writing backwards to Richard Foreman and Jim Strahs and forwards to Richard Maxwell.

I can’t even begin to relate what goes on in the story of Chang but part of what’s fun are the absurdly complicated names (Dr. Ibañez, Dr. Sabartés, Sumimazenka). And I’m always irresistibly tickled by the nonstop flow of references to rock-song lyrics and personalities, which in Episode 53 included Van Morrison’s "Gloria," a string of Beatles songs, the Pet Shop Boys, David Bowie, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young as well as full renditions of the Four Tops’ "Bernadette," Bertolt Brecht and Hans Eisler’s "Song of the Moldau," and the blues song "I Asked for Water."

In Chang nobody seems to die -- characters who were killed in 1945 and 1967 continue to put in appearances and figure in the plot. In the same way, this whole enterprise is very much haunted by the unseen but felt presence of AIDS and the casualties it has extorted from this realm of New York theater, including Jesurun’s ex-roommate and original Chang cast member Frank Maya, Merhten’s ex-lover Ron Vawter of the Wooster Group, the Ridiculous Theater’s Charles Ludlam, and so many others. There’s a poignant sense of the current Chang lineup as the Extended Family of AIDS Survivors.

Don Shewey