the all-american genderf*ck cabaret
BOTTOM LINE: One of the best off-off-Broadway productions I've seen. A well-written story with a clear message told by a solid team of collaborators.
The world premiere of the all-american genderf*ck cabaret by Mariah MacCarthy, directed by Krystal Banzon, is daring and touching. While the title seems geared towards a more risque audience, its message is one for anyone who has ever loved, been loved, or wanted to be loved. This production proves all that is really needed to create good theatre is a good script, talented actors, clear direction, and designers who understand how to support a story.
The subject is taboo, the language adult, and the style nontraditional, yet never does it feel like the show is trying to be "shocking." My biggest criticism of many off and off-off-Broadway productions is the want to be shocking. Some seem to believe that if they push boundaries, yell a lot, get naked or otherwise stick it to The Man they have, somehow, validated themselves as artists. While the above is occasionally true, more often it is a poor substitute for talent and creativity. A great artist provokes without malice, evokes feeling and understanding, and perhaps plants the seeds of change. MacCarthy succeeds.
Drawing from surrealism, the play includes dream sequences, jumps in time, music, dance, and stylized movement. There is also an omniscient guide in the form of Taylor (Becca Blackwell), an androgynous Master of Ceremonies. The talented Blackwell leads the ensemble with charisma, charm and a delightful sense of humor. The ensemble, which is expertly cast, adds depth to their separate stereotypes with Breakfast Club appeal.
It is not easy to create a visually appealing show in the tiny theatre that is Under St. Marks. Most productions I've seen here look like little more than big kids playing dress up in their grandma's basement, however, this design team has put together a surprisingly stunning, yet simple, design. The metallic unit set with white cubes (Ashley Pridmore-Abrego is the set designer) creates depth and interest in the otherwise drab, dark, black box. Lighting designer Mike Gugliotti magically supports mood and shifts in reality, and while the costumes may partially have been pulled from the actors' closets (as is often the case with low-to-no budget shows), the design by Nina Vartanian, which moves from black and white, to shades of gray, to splashes of color, is one of the most well thought-out modern dress designs I've seen.
Banzon, together with Movement Director Sarena Kennedy, masterfully maneuvers the cast of nine within the small space. Put it all together with a soundtrack by Karla Calderon (complete with a little help from Flash Dance and West Side Story), and you've got a triple threat: great writing, great cast, great presentation.
The play explores gays, lesbians, girlie boys, tom boys, sluts and prudes but most importantly it explores people. MacCarthy shows that it's easier to fall into a stereotype than it is to believe in who you are, but as she says, "In a polarized world of pink versus blue, everyone deserves Technicolor" and maybe even a peanut butter and banana sandwich...with honey.
(the all-american genderf*ck cabaret plays at UNDER St. Marks, located at 94 St. Marks Place (between 1st Avenue and Avenue A), through April 3rd. The remaining four performances are Wednesday through Saturday, all at 7pm. The show runs 2 hours 10 minutes, with one intermission. This is a basement theatre, and has no wheelchair access. Tickets are $18 and are available at SmartTix (smarttix.com or 212-868-4444). For more information visit rapscalliontheatrecollective.com.)