by J.D. Oxblood
(The Tank, April 22, 2011)
I was talking to my web developer the other night, and I asked, just out of curiosity, where our servers are located—you know, the actual physical machines that run the brilliance that is Burlesque Beat. “St. Louis,” he said. “And Germany.” It’s a redundancy thing. Somehow it stuck in my mind. That was the first time I’d ever heard St. Louis and Germany in the same sentence. How our content gets from our computers in Brooklyn and the East Village to servers in St. Louis and Germany and then into the iPod’s of burlesquers worldwide… I just don’t get it. Sometimes two things that seem to have nothing in common get along famously.
Two things that seem to have nothing in common but get along famously—Epic Win Burlesque. “Epic” has got nothing to do with “Win,” but it’s managed to become a well-used phrase, according to the Urban Dictionary. (Yeah, I had to look it up.) And THAT phrase has got nothing to do with burlesque. And none of it has anything to do with classic horror movies—or a non-profit rental house in Midtown—or an audience of young Pabst Blue Ribbon swillers. And yet, Epic Win Burlesque manages to meld disparate and often-contradictory elements into a cohesive and articulate aesthetic, and should be celebrated for bringing burlesque to a younger audience and perpetuating its ability to evolve as an art form.
The Tank is a small proscenium house, and was packed to the gills by guppies. We squeezed in and, while it would be hypocritical of me to judge the mohawked kid next to me on style, considering my own punk rock past, I have no issue judging him olfactorarily. Dude, take a fucking shower. ANYway, we open with a clever film montage of classic horror, introducing the cast and teasing us with several of the films that inspired the acts we’re about to see. You can really tell an audience’s sensibility by how loud they cheer at pop references. These people REALLY like “American Psycho.” These people have never seen “The Deer Hunter.” I give mad props to Schaffer the Dark Lord for putting together that video.
Epic Win is hosted by the dynamic duo of Schaffer the Dark Lord and Nelson Lugo, who use a casual, off-the-cuff style to bounce off one another with maximum friction. They know their audience, and vice versa, and these two—dressed tonight in matching ice-cream-man-slash-insane-asylum whites—routinely pry laughs out of the crowd with nothing more than the crowbar of silence and a shared look. Lugo’s sideshow bark is complemented and contradicted by Schaffer’s encyclopedic instruction.
So they take us on a tour of the rated ‘R’—Victoria Privates portray’s “A Clockwork Orange”’s Alex busting out of restraints to disco dance to his fave tunes, in this case the 70s classic “A Fifth of Beethoven.” Mary Cyn dons a devastating Sweeney Todd costume and cuts if off, getting down to bare suspenders and bathing in blood. (BTW, we all love Johnny, Mary, but the lord won’t kill you for picking a soundtrack by someone who can sing. And yes, I’m only saying this because every woman I’ve ever loved was hopelessly in love with Johnny, and I’m fucking tired of playing second fiddle to the fucker.) And Femme Appeal did a spelunking, abseiling routine spun off a flick called “The Descent,” and, no, I didn’t get the reference. Schaffer promises it’s really, really bad, so bring the pot brownies and we’ll have a screening.
BB Heart brought the house down with her blistering rendition of “American Psycho.” She clearly picked the audience’s favorite film. I have mixed feelings—as a writer, I find Brett Easton Ellis to be a hack, at best, and despite several urgings from various friends in the early 90s, I couldn’t get more than 3 pages into that book. BUT, it’s a great movie. It’s a good story, and, converted to a script with BEE’s plodding, pedestrian prose excised, it soars and disturbs by no small measure thanks to Christian Bale’s downright spooky commitment. Which is pretty much what BB was both homaging and making fun of. Setting up a complicated set—I don’t know why this wasn’t set up during intermission, or why the dour, somebody-killed-my-dog kitten Moxie Cat had to set it all up heself—we’re brought into the scene of a couch, papers on the floor, and a dude (a dummy) lounging around, voiced via recording in a conversation with BB, who is, naturally, wearing a rain coat, and doing the Bateman face, cheerfully prattling on about Huey Lewis and the News, working her jaw brilliantly like a coke fiend. You know where this is going. Everyone knows where this is going. She’s doing the scene, killing it, and the crowd is screaming for her by the time she raises the axe and hacks into the dummy. And BB—who, I’m convinced, just loves wearing men’s clothes—disrobes, skillfully removing her tie the way a man would, and stripping down to sock garters and tighty whiteys, before flexing maniacally and walking off stage. Brilliant.
But my all-over fave of the evening is the recreation of “Psycho” offered by the arbiter of impeccable taste, Lefty Lucy. As Bernard Herrmann’s sweeping strings fill the house, Lucy enters, truly looking the part in the perfect Janet Leigh outfit, seamed stockings and not a strand of hair out of place, carrying herself upright, almost preening. She puts down her suitcase, she counts the money. And she slowly undresses. Moving stage left, her final disrobing is seen in silhouette against a backlit shower curtain. She steps through the curtain, all but nude and bathing in the stagelight. “Screech! Screech! Screech! Screech!” I knew it was coming and I still fucking jumped—Norman comes through the curtain and stabs her repeatedly. The crowd jumps, hoots, hollers. Lucy slumps against the wall, lovely and dead, as bewigged Norman beats it. The music plays on, and the scene doesn’t end. Pat of Tony, brilliantly playing Norman, comes back into the space, out of his mom costume, with a look of pure bafflement on his face—really, this kid is bringing it home. He wraps poor Janet’s body up in the shower curtain and gets her backstage, entering again to clean up the joint. Only then does the music fade.
Our hosts also got a turn center stage: Nelson Lugo brought out Apathy Angel, who did a short gogo before Lugo chloroformed her and laid her on a table, doing a high-volume (in both club music and quantity of blood) rendition of the classic faith healer trick, removing tumors. He dug into her lithe body and pulled out bloody mass after bloody mass, working furiously, feverishly working up a sweat. Fun for all ages. With a clever bit, being tempted to grab the unconscious lass’ breast—and of course, some d-bag in the crowd urging him to do it. Five bucks that asshole’s got a pocket full of roofies. ANYhoo, mad props to Apathy Angel for remaining still and unconscious through the raffle set up until we broke for intermission and Lugo carried her offstage. I love commitment to a bit.
And bringing up the rear of the show was Shaffer the Darklord, in drag, as the titular heroine of “Carrie,” busting a breathless rap with a chorus about “buckets of buckets of fucking buckets of buckets of blood,” and you better “buh-bleed dat.” Shaffer is an anomaly, a clever rapper who moonlights in the burlesque scene, and obviously knows a lot of theatre people because he has an entry on Wikipedia. (I’m teasing, but, seriously, we all know that Wikipedia is written exclusively by bored techies at tech.) I looked him up. “Nerdcore rap” is actually a thing. Although he’s not quite in that category, because, as Shaffer put it, “In high school, I got laid.” That’s funny shit. And I do love a guy who does his homework—I didn’t know that “American Psycho” was such a controversy, that Gloria Steinem was against it, or that she’s Christian Bale’s stepmother.
And then there’s Nasty Canasta. Sigh. (HEART.) She sat down and thought, “Well, they want me to choose something disturbing,” and came up with Walt Disney’s “Bambi.” Goddamnit she’s a genius. “Bambi” was TOTALLY upsetting—I saw that shit in the theatre and bawled my eyes out when Bambi’s mom got shot. So now I get to relive that, mixed with humor and boner-inspiring antics, as Nasty and Victoria Privates gamble about in doe ears and nose kiss. And then Hard Cory comes out with a rifle and Nasty gives him a lap dance as Bambi watches. So… twisted… can’t… look… away. The hunter wants her to take more off, so he keeps tipping her… with leaves. Once he gets her basically naked—and showing off her little tail—he puts the gun in her mouth and kills her. And then he PATS BAMBI ON THE HEAD as he leaves the stage.
Nelson Lugo, speaking in a high squeaky voice:
“It was also kind of hot it made me uncomfortable.”
All photos ©2011 Melody Mudd. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permissions. Performers, please do use shots for promotional purposes, but please credit properly with photographer’s full name and a link to this piece. Performers who would like hi-rez images, get in touch.