Check out what the critics have to say about Alfred Preisser and Randy Weiner’s CALIGULA MAXIMUS, currently at the Ellen Stewart Theatre, 66 E. 4th St. in New York through April 17th.
Caligula Maximus, which just opened at La MaMa’s Ellen Stewart Theater, is the latest creation from Classical Theatre of Harlem co-founder Alfred Preisser and Randy Weiner, owner of performance nightclub The Box. Caligula is long-time collaborators Preisser and Weiner’s (along with other CTH founder Christopher McElroen) creative follow-up to last season’s Archbishop Supreme Tartuffe, a work that remains the most fun I’ve had in a New York theater. Caligula, while very different from the glitzy, polished setting of Supreme, covers similar thematic ground. In the world of Preisser and Weiner, bold, uncompromising “sinners” get their chance on the stand. You may not like what they have to say about the boring, joyless, often-times contradictory society you and I live within, but you’re going to hear it. And chances are, after spending time with their wonderfully crafted, outlandish characters, chances are you’ll agree that it truly is better to “laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.”…
Caligula Maximus is blessed with some terrific performances, perfectly capable of working within a place where spectacle meets message. As the title character, Ryan Knowles is perfect. Made-up as a Jagger-Hedwig hybrid, Knowles moves between his songs and speeches with ease, hitting all the right moments. At times we’re enthralled and at other times disgusted with him, but always interested. As his sister/lover Drusilla, cirque performer Anya Sapozhnikova is understated, mysterious, and powerful in her small but important role. Also, singer/actor Luqman Brown is funny and engaging in his role as “the peanut guy.”…There is something to be said for the charged environment the creative team of Weiner, Preisser, and producer McElroen build into each of their shows. Never before have I seen such a mix of people at one performance (an audience that actually looks like our city), all engaging one another with the sense of excitement and anticipation normally reserved for live concerts. It is, for me, more than a refreshing change from the “oh so serious” world of New York theatre… if shows can find a way to tap into the spirited audience/performer exchange happening at works like this, we may be on our way to making theatre a real presence in the day-to-day culture of generations to come. NYTHEATRE.COM
Backstage.com: NY Review: ‘Caligula Maximus’ at La MaMa ETC
Reviewed by Clifford Lee Johnson III March 22, 2010
Jesus poses mournfully in the lobby, a topless woman in a Hula-Hoop gyrates in the foyer, a peanut vendor hawks his wares inside the theater—and then the show starts. For the next 75 minutes, the Roman emperor Caligula and 30 actors, dancers, circus performers, professional bodybuilders, and porn stars proceed to sing, dance, wrestle, murder, and float gracefully through the air in “Caligula Maximus,” the circus/musical/extravaganza at La MaMa.
The notion behind this exuberantly aberrant piece is that Caligula is hosting a circus for the people of Rome. During its course, we are treated to the highlights and low points of his reign, including the installation of his horse Incitatus as a member of the Senate, his tragic love for his sister Drusilla, and his desire to become the empire’s chief deity. But even though Caligula bests Jesus in a wrestling match for that honor, he still cannot thwart the peanut vendor’s prophecy that his followers will turn on him before the performance ends.
…Preisser & Weiner’s wisest decision is the casting of Ryan Knowles as Caligula. He carries the entire production on his slim shoulders, imbuing the emperor with charisma, intelligence, tenderness, and a sense of irony. Almost as smart is the choice of Luqman Brown to play the peanut vendor. Flying above the set, aerialist Anya Sapozhnikova makes for an ethereal Drusilla. Porn celebrity and former Penthouse Pet Justine Joli fleshes out (literally) Caligula’s wife, Caesonia. And I predict that Tim Dax’s muscular portrayal of Incitatus will entice more than a few theatergoers into sharing Caligula’s equine passion.
“Caligula Maximus” is not for everyone. If you like your theater to argue like a grad-school paper, have a pathological dread of being pulled on stage, or look at naked actors and wonder if they ever eat, you will not appreciate this production. But if you like your theater gamy and a bit rough around the edges, “Caligula Maximus” will thoroughly satisfy your desires.BACKSTAGE.COM
Playing the titular, self-created deity Caligula with a cheeky, pervy, party-boy hauteur not unlike Cabaret’s furtive emcee, the brave, highly attention-catching Ryan Knowles lords over a most unruly evening…This is down-and-dirty downtown theater of the crudest kind, which is highly commendable in this era of prefab junk-food theater.
Reviewed By: Dan Bacalzo · Mar 21, 2010 · New York
Caligula Maximus, Alfred Preisser and Randy Weiner’s raunchy circus extravaganza about the infamous Roman emperor…Caligula (Ryan Knowles), enters riding a giant golden phallus and takes control of the stage. Knowles has a dynamic presence, and an appropriately seedy charisma. He also has a deep baritone, which he utilizes to good effect, particularly in a late-in-the-show ballad… He’s shown here indulging in all forms of sexuality, from relations with his beautiful wife Caesonia (played by porn star Justine Joli), to homoerotic dalliances with Helicon, to incest with sister Drusilla (the acrobatic Anya Sapozhnikova), to bestiality with horse Incitatus (Tim Dax), the latter of whom he also makes head of the Roman senate…The edgiest moment in the production comes when Caligula takes to the arena himself for a one-on-one match with none other than Jesus Christ (beatifically portrayed by Aaron Strand).
Reviewed for TheaterOnline.com March 22, 2010 By: Lauren Wissot
Caligula Maximus” is one big, punk rock smackdown answer to sissy hippie “Hair.” Rocky Horror Picture Show meets Coney Island Sideshow is how best to describe writer/director Alfred Preisser and writer Randy Weiner’s “Caligula Maximus,” a loveably scruffy and ragged extravaganza set on the last night of the debauched dictator’s life… Caligula announces its rebel intentions with a live rock band and a hodgepodge of pro bodybuilders, burlesque babes, aerialists and assorted tattooed and pierced talent that dance, writhe, walk on stilts and swing through the air as the audience enters the theater’s circus tent setup. And the show’s casting speaks volumes. Riding in on a giant golden penis against the backdrop of crumbling Roman Empire columns is the Mick Jagger resembling Ryan Knowles as Caligula…”
Presented by La MaMa, e.t.c., CALIGULA MAXIMUS is a project with Hammerstein & Weiner, LLC, Christopher McElroen, Alfred Preisser and Kingsize, USA.
Scheduled performances are on Thursday and Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 8pm and 10pm, through April 17th. Tickets are $30, $25 for students and seniors and can be purchased online at http://www.lamama.org or by calling the box office at 212.475.7710. For more information, visit
Ellen Stewart Theatre
66 E. 4th St., between 2nd Avenue and The Bowery