September 14, 2014

The dark eyes, peering from just under a fringe of blond bangs, wander the room before seeming to fix on some odd vision. The mind, too, tends to flit freely, moving from cogent reminiscence to random non sequitur like a needle skipping across a record. And the voice, a husky, German-accented drawl that seems to sigh with every syllable, suggests some serious inner disengagement with the world, or maybe just disgust with it. In her remarkable — and howlingly funny — portrayal of Nico, the 1960s chanteuse and muse to musical greats of the time, the singer and performance artist Tammy Faye Starlite is both vividly present and somehow barely there. Nico: Underground, at Theater for the New City, resurrects both the title character and some of the zonked-out mood of the psychedelic era. Although Ms. Starlite can only pretend to smoke a cigarette in the basement space in which the show is staged, I began to feel I was inhaling fumes from something stronger, or had somehow been transported back to the late 1960s, when Nico was in her mythic prime. The show ostensibly takes place much later. Written by T. D. Lang (a.k.a. Ms. Starlite) and directed by Michael Schiralli, it’s a blend of concert, with Ms. Starlite performing a dozen songs closely associated with Nico, and a fictionalized version of a radio interview from Melbourne in 1986, just a few years before Nico’s death. (The text is primarily drawn from that interview, as well as several others, with some poetic license taken.)