Thursday, March 19, 2020

Cabaret Macabre (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

This wonderful dance show from ZJU will return when theatres re-open.  In fact it will indeed have two more performances (see below)!  When they do, allow me to recommend this lovely, dark, funny cabaret show.  In this case the name Cabaret Macabre says it all, really.

Brittany DeWeese (the redhead on the cover) choreographed/directed this collection of dance pieces as well as performing.  Laura Van Yck (she of the raven locks on the postcard) acts as hostess, channeling some blend of Morticia Addams and Marilyn Monroe with a liberal sprinkling of Dita Van Teese.

Now, given the name and design of post card, I did sit down with some expectations.  Vague ones, to be sure.  Probably some spooky/halloween songs while gothic ladies performed a series of stripteases..  And yeah, I kinda/sorta got precisely that.  With an edge.  I happily report however the performers gave more than expected.

For one thing--men.  Two male performers, Chris Andrews and Michael Baker, sporting both the looks and the talent to dance some amazing performances, usually with their female cast-mates.  Sometimes on their own.  They did not strip, but then hardly anyone did.  Rather, what we got were dance/movement vignettes.  Vignettes that  really worked--entertaining, a bit shocking, a tiny bit thought-provoking.

One of my faves had a man and woman with two goblets, one of whom was poisoned, and their elaborate dance on and around the table, constantly switching goblets on each other until both downed the contents at one time!

There was more, including more than one time members of the audience found themselves taking part!  But while yes, this show had plenty of lingerie and flesh showing off amid artful teasing, what I really walked away with was the broad-spectrum joy of entertainment on a host of levels.  A pastor using a woman as his pulpit, until she turns the tables on him.  A man descending from boyfriend to animal.  One final striptease which ends with a hilarious bit of body horror!

Kudos to all involved, pictured below--those not yet mentioned include Taylor Alyssa, Lindsay Chase and Darian Stranix.  All photo credits belong to Laura Van Yck

Cabaret Macabre will return at 11pm on Friday and Saturday, April 3 and 4, 2020 at  Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre Group 4850 Lankershim (just south of the NoHo Sign), North Hollywood CA 91601.


Friday, March 13, 2020

You are all invited...


Imagine a radio station more or less today, in an America like our own.  And they are putting up an adaptation of a gothic classic.
Snacks will be provided.  Feedback eagerly sought.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Rod Roget's Celebrity Nightcap (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Remember Hugh Hefner's t.v. specials?  What about the spy films of the 1960s and 70s that seemed really so very silly yet entertaining at the same time?  Well, you might realize the blending of these two was something our cultural zeitgeist needed, but behold...!

Okay "need" might be a bit strong.  But Rod Roget's Celebrity Nightcap fits this niche and it works with startlingly entertaining results.  The "pets" in this case don cat ears instead of bunny ears or a tail.  Every one of them proudly proclaim a lot of educational credentials along with their measurements and opinions about anal.  Our host is Rod Roget (Warren Hall), an over-the-top caricature not so much of Hugh Hefner but an image he himself represented--the playboy uber-capitalist a la Tony Stark but minus the genius.  At least this one has a social conscience, in that he eagerly sets his Pethouse girls to solving a murder.  On live t.v. no less.  With not entirely legal results.

Hot tubs can be dangerous kids.

The Pethouse girls are the real stars of this, and that each one comes across as a vivid character in her own right is half the reason this show works, frankly.  Gwen Rocakatansky (Olivia Friloux) for example is the tall Amazonian head of security.  Helen Waters (Liz Mina) claims to speak 17 languages--and this proves true!  In fact, part of the fun of the whole show is that the seemingly outlandish claims of the Pethouse Girls turns out to be nothing less than accurate!  Thus they end up redefined as a superheroine team with a feline-based set of costumes!  With the help of the robotic Petputer everyone combines their talents to examine all clues in reference to the murder of Eloise Barnes (Abbygail Williams) fiancee Tom (Jason Britt--who also doubles as a drug-soaked movie director and guest of Rod Roget's show). 

Crucial to it all is Mandy Pennysnapper (Robertha Mallmann) who uncovers a vital clue and so becomes Pethouse Pet of the Year--in a quick ceremony where the character has a brief, delicious breakdown wallowing in neurosis about how everyone sees her and this will show them!  Her rival Ruth Goldfarb (Victoria Saitz) helps lead the girls into a martial-arts based combat with...well, it is funny and wonderful but I don't want to spoil it.

Bringing up the rest of the characters are cartoonist David Jackson (Alex Press), slimeball wannabe movie star Tony West (Krizia Robin), and very Truman Capote-esque writer Conrad Thurman (John Santo).  But who is the killer?  And what does this have to do with Soviet spies much less the House Un-American Activities Committee?  More importantly, who is sponsoring this show?  And which Pethouse girl does not do anal?

You have to watch the show, and laugh at it, to find out.

Rod Roget's Celebrity Nightcap as of this writing has two more performances--Friday and Saturday, March 13 and 14, 2020 at 8:30pm at Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre (ZJU), 4850 Lankershim Blvd (just south of the NoHo sign) North Hollywood, CA 91601.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The Bindings (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

I went to see this show/installation this last weekend with a friend.  My friend found it quite dull.

For me however, it was an artfully created nightmare, ending with an almost explosive release and escape.  Yes, the "action" such as it is, remains slow and subtle.  Insidiously and brilliantly so.

The Bindings proved a title with many, many meetings.  At first there was raw beauty, hidden behind black gauze as women danced/moved in slow motion--said gauze almost like a placenta removed as the first piece of music ended.  After that, a series of actions, orders, demands and props began to appear and impact upon the ensemble.

A mirror into which to gaze, seeing every flaw, reflecting back unhappiness and shame.

Rope to bind limbs.  Chains to do the same.  Corsets at last to fulfill the same purpose.

A simple scale, stood upon in an endless ritual of self-consciousness and failure.

Plastic wrap, to bind as totally as possible the nude form of a woman almost inhumanly still, even as her mouth and face almost vanished under the wrap--even as audience members were encouraged to place things on "our toy" like jewelry or ribbons or name tags.

Or tape.  Black for nipples and groins.  Brown for mouths, with new mouths painted over them even as makeup turns these increasingly immobile faces into masks.  Head held just so, tummies tucked just this much.  It felt like torture.  Looked like it, but felt much worse.  My flesh began to crawl pretty soon as the exhibit began, and crawled ever more as the women of the cast were transformed into mannequins.  Into things.  Things that posed.  Things that cleaned.  Things to be placed and used as one does furniture.  And you feel complicit.

Yes, some audience members "take part."  But every second was a subtle, laser-focused revelation of the thousands of ways women are bound, bounded, given bindings and boundaries, braced and berated.  Ultimately, their faces became just about the worst.  Aware of their own slavery, and void of hope.  Quiet, impotent resentment.  Worse, sometimes the effect was complete.  Some faces ended up containing nothing at all, just the eerie stillness of a coffee table or an empty vase.  Because it all seemed so horribly, grotesquely familiar.  This wasn't even BDSM, the exploration of pain and submission.  This was just...reduction.  Reshaping as if flesh and soul were clay to be transformed into porcelain.

It did not end thus.  Rather, the bindings eventually were taken away or torn off.  Faces and limbs washed.  Corsets and shackled traded for cloth.  Angles becoming a circle.  The weirdly beautiful but horrific music of piped in complacency replaced by the sound of...breathing.

Followed by more than freedom.  Not merely the surcease of binding, but focus, and soon enough ritual.  For other things should indeed be bound.  Cruelty.  Fears,  Sadness and shame.  Malice.  Not to be burned, but drowned, covered and cleansed by soothing water.  A revolution not of violent overthrow, but healing.

That is what Vanessa Cate,  Angie Hoover, Natalie Hyde, Alariza Nevarez, Jonica Patella, Jess Sabine, Michaela Slezak, Mila Starfyre, Katie J. Stone, Laura Van Yck, Mae Lust and Lore Randolph achieve in this piece.  And peace.

As of this writing The Bindings has one performance left, Sunday March 15 at 7pm, at ZJU 4850 Lankershim Blvd (just south of the NoHo Sign), North Hollywood CA 91601.  I urge you to go see this.  Warning--This piece involves full nudity, witchcraft, and possibly explicit or triggering themes.

Ain't All So Grimm (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

In a half-crammed attic, a little girl takes refuge from the dreaded real life and its pains.  There, amid the toys and props left behind by her grandfather, stories act themselves out by what seem like puppets.  In the process, she finds a courage she never knew she had--growing up a little bit, while learning to hold on to the child she will always be.

Such in a nutshell is Robert J. Watson's new play Ain't All So Grimm from FON Productions in Noho.

Little One (Tessa Willshire) is the girl from whose eyes we see the magic happen.  She comes across as a blend of Dorothy, Alice, and Wendy.  Quite to her surprise, the puppet called Storyteller (Graydon Schlichter) notices her presence and tempts her to stay, to be their audience. Soon enough we meet Ingenue (LeeAnne Rowe), whom Storyteller feels strongly for yet behaves at the same time as if he hardly knows her at all.  This proves the fault of the villainous Stage Manager (Jerry Don Chappell).

Beginning as a passive watcher, Little One eventually wants to choose her stories, becoming most interested in one titled "Bearskin," which may or may not be an original folk tale, or one composed by Watson.  Maybe some blend of the two.  It certainly echoes The Beauty and the Beast as well as The Little Mermaid and others.  Most of the cast play multiple roles, such as Legend (Paula K. Long) whose main roles are God, Bearskin's mother, and of course the Devil's Grandmother.  Ensemble (Melanie Shone) portrays the Devil Herself and obviously has a ball doing so!  Vaudeville (Ron Babaldon) plays Bearskin's father, who at the start of the tale goes seeking a godfather for his newborn boy.  He finally settles on the fairest and most just of all who offer themselves--Death, played by Veteran (Richard Large).

Despite the warning above, I don't really want to spoil the show, but strongly recommend you go see it yourselves.  To be fair, I think the play comes across as a tiny bit short and I get the feeling director Jennifer Novak Chun didn't get as much rehearsal as she'd hoped.  Yet these are nuances.  What remains despite what are pretty minor imperfections, is a charming and wonder-filled fairy tale about the perils of foolishness, the value of love and loyalty, the nature of malice, and the treasure that is wisdom.

Ain't All So Grimm plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm until March 21, 2020 at the Actors Workout Studio, 4735 Lankershim Blvd (just south of Little Toni's), North Hollywood CA 91602.