By Emily Sweeney
Globe Staff / August 6, 2010
It is a dispute made in kitsch culture heaven: a mime versus an Elvis impersonator.
The standoff between the two buskers began on July 12, 2009, when Cady Vishniac, a 24-year-old human statue from Dorchester, was performing in her usual spot at the corner of Commercial and Ryder streets in Provincetown.
Raymond Sitar, a 67-year-old retired lawyer and Elvis tribute artist, wanted her sidewalk space so he could sing Elvis songs. Vishniac contends that Sitar “snuck up on me while I was working and grabbed my rear end.’’
She declined to move. Vishniac said Sitar spent the next hour standing beside her, grumbling to himself, clearing his throat, and stamping his feet.
“I found it a little disturbing to have the man throwing a very public tantrum so close to me, but chose to ignore him,’’ Vishniac said in an e-mail to the Globe. “What was difficult to ignore was that he was trying very hard to get the attention of my audience and get them to take his picture instead of mine.’’
The police got involved, and now the dispute between the mime and an Elvis impersonator has landed in federal court.
In Provincetown, with its mix of colorful residents and wide-eyed tourists picking through fudge shops and clothing stores, street performers must get a permit before using the sidewalk as their stage. They are not allowed to perform within 100 feet of schools, churches, hospitals, libraries, and Town Hall, but otherwise, almost all public areas are fair game, and they are on their own when laying claim to a spot. That can cause trouble, it seems.
Vishniac is a member of The Statue Factory, a Boston-based troupe of performance artists. She makes her livelihood as a living statue, a gig that entails striking poses and keeping perfectly still for extended periods of time. During the summer season, she is a familiar sight in Provincetown, where she wears gold makeup and paint and appears as a bronze statue perched atop a ladder at the corner of Commercial and Ryder streets, one of the busiest intersections in town.
Sitar, from New Haven, occasionally dons a jet-black wig, large gold sunglasses, and ornately jeweled costume and belts out hits like “Heartbreak Hotel’’ and “Blue Suede Shoes’’ on public sidewalks as a hobby.
In a lawsuit Sitar recently filed, he says he never touched Vishniac on that day in July last year. He says he greeted Vishniac by saying, “Hey, gold lady,’’ and asked her to relinquish her spot, because she had been there more than a couple of hours.
When Vishniac did not move, Sitar complained to a police officer standing nearby.
Vishniac left about an hour later and went to the police station, where she reported that Sitar had groped her.
Another street performer who was at the scene, Carol Mahar, backed up Vishniac’s statements about the encounter, according to their lawyer.
So, to Sitar’s complete shock, he was arrested.
“Surprised would be an understatement,’’ Sitar said in a telephone interview. “I had no idea . . . I was completely shocked. I simply spoke to Cady and asked if she would move.’’
He accuses Vishniac of going to police in retaliation for his earlier complaint to an officer. He says that she filed a false charge and that Mahar lied to back her up.
“As a result of that false complaint, I was arrested, placed in jail, had to post bond, and suffer mental anguish, humiliation, and suspicion that I was a sex offender,’’ Sitar says in the lawsuit.
The assault charge against Sitar was ultimately dropped. The case had been scheduled for a jury trial in January. Vishniac said she did not appear in court because she was on the road, working on an art show in Jamaica.
In June, Sitar filed the civil lawsuit against Vishniac and Mahar in US District Court in New Haven, where he lives. The suit alleges libel, slander, and malicious prosecution. Sitar is seeking $100,000 in damages.
Mahar has been served with the complaint, but Vishniac is waiting to be served, according to John A. Cirello, an attorney for Mahar and Vishniac.
Cirello is seeking to have the suit dismissed on grounds that it was filed outside Massachusetts.
“We feel that the case doesn’t have any merit,’’ said Cirello. “We have no basis for why he’s claiming that much money.’’
If the case does go forward, Cirello said his clients will fight Sitar’s allegations of libel and slander and malicious prosecution.
“We’ll be using truth as a defense,’’ said Cirello. “The statements she made to police are true. She did not lie to police. Everything she told police was absolutely true. There’s no liability.’’
Meanwhile, Sitar hopes to have his day in court and said he has witnesses to support his claims.
“They filed false charges against me,’’ he said in a recent telephone interview. “They accused me of assault when in fact I have several witnesses that will testify [that I did not].’’
Sitar said he has performed as an Elvis tribute artist for a few years.
“I certainly don’t look like Elvis,’’ Sitar said. “It’s not a full time job for me. Performing is kind of a hobby for me.
“Never in my career as a performer have I had a problem like this,’’ he said. “. . . This is the first time.’’
Emily Sweeney can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @emilysweeney.
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