Clamour of Cabaret

A Clamour of Cabaret: A Volume of Vaudeville Varietals
Dysfunctional Theatre Company
UNDER St. Marks, 94 St. Marks Place
Through August 16

The Dysfunctional Theatre Company's mission statement explains that the group considers the underperformed plays and twisted classics, which they present to be dysfunctional to show that "dysfunction isn’t a product of 21st or even 20th century life [but] a product of the human condition." A Clamour of Cabaret, hosted by bottle-wielding and genially bickering hosts F. Scott Fitzgerald (Rob Brown) and Edna St. Vincent Millay (Jennifer Gill), demonstrates the dysfunction within the narratives and other characteristic bits that leap to the nostalgic mind at the mention of "vaudeville" and "cabaret" performances, but it does so delightfully.

As characters struggle for control over the production -- the late arrival of Fitzgerald and Millay leads La Diva Chiara Tarabotti (Nicole Lee Aiossa, a dominant comic presence whenever she is on stage) to think that she will be hosting, the lighting and sound director (Justin Plowman) steps onto the stage to fill in as straight man for a rapidly collapsing take on "Who’s on First?" -- the show runs the gamut through song, dance, and light comedy, but each episode subverts the expectations built around the genre. "The Courtship: Themes & Variations" reimagines the same story, a live-action silent movie staged in front of dialog cards, throughout the show in a variety of settings to show how courtship is as much a ritual for humans as it is for sexually-available animals and to lampoon its quick descent into male posturing and fisticuffs. A burlesque interlude sends most of the male cast to join the audience, where they verbally express their animalistic sexual availability and appreciation, while the lingerie-clad performers are joined by the remaining male cast member, who straddles a chair and disrupts the normativity of the males’ gazes. One of the longest, and most memorable, pieces, "Henry/Anne," whose title contains an allusion to the English king and his ill-fated wife, approaches the issue of gendered courtship through automatons (Melissa DeLancey and Josh Beyers) built for the purpose by a duo of scientists (Amy Beth Sherman and Adam Swiderski). "Buddy, Can You Spare a Rhyme?" adds a class dimension, putting an unnamed woman (Alexandra Cohen Spiegler) between an impoverished actor and a wealthy fiancé who resents her education.

Incorporating material from Kurt Weill, the Kids in the Hall, Fitzgerald, and Millay -- whose Aria da Capo introduces a not-unwelcome solemnity to the stage, however briefly -- into a program of original material, A Clamour of Cabaret is a frothy, fun evening that shows, through something that isn't quite parody, how little things have changed since the turn of the last century. - Leah Richards and John Ziegler