Cabaret seriously cuts loose with Wild Party
Amid the chaos, debauchery and the exposing of body parts that characterized the Chico Cabaret’s production of Wild Party, there was one wild aspect for which no one had planned last Saturday night. A stray bat that had infiltrated the theater swooped around the heads of unsuspecting audience members for a large part of the play, much to everyone’s bemusement. Apparently he wanted a shot at the action, too.
And why wouldn’t he? At first glimpse of the stage, with bright orange Japanese lanterns dotting the corners of a living room providing small relief from the shrouding darkness, and electric-blue windows set against black frames and subtle jazz rifts floating down from above the set, you couldn’t help but feel a little eroticized.
The sultry room is the scene of Andrew Lippa’s musical adaptation of the famous book-length poem by John Moncure March. It was banned in Boston when it was first published, and William Burroughs called it “the book that made me want to be a writer.”
Almost the entire play was acted out in song before a nearly full house in the cozy theater. The mostly older crowd sipped drinks from the bar or nibbled on candy from the counter while laughing uproariously at the hysterics going on onstage. The friendly, open setup of Chico Cabaret made the audience feel as much a part of the fun as the actors (although they left the disrobing and screams of “You lazy slut!” and “Bastard!” to those on stage).
Wild Party is a tale of life on the edge during 1920s Prohibition-era Manhattan, told from inside the apartment of two vaudeville performers, the seductive, soulful Queenie (played by Allison F. Rich) and the irrational, abusive Burrs (played by Allen Lunde). In an attempt to spice up their flailing romance, the two decide to throw a party to end all parties. Stocked with their racy and outrageous friends who enthusiastically show up to mix drugs, drinks and bodily fluids, the party provides a stage for Queenie and Burrs to attempt to make each other jealous. As they try to imagine a life that doesn’t involve the other, each seeks comfort in the arms of another.
Queenie falls for the romantic Mr. Black, and Burrs fights off advances from the loud, scheming, strong-willed junkie, Kate (played by one of the brightest spots in the play, Kelsi Fossum-Trausch). Sniffing from a cocaine-filled bullet hidden in her bra, Kate is so vibrant and over the top, she almost steals the show.
Director Phil Ruttenburg has put together a seamless production that moves swiftly from one number to the next. The cast was confident and fearless, and had no problem staying committed to being festive. Dressed elegantly for most of the party—the women in flapper garb, with feather boas and waves in their hair, the men in snazzy suits and hats—everyone stripped down to their skivvies toward the end.
There is an air of sadness to the whole affair. Rich’s Queenie, with her scarlet lips and platinum curls, belts out her tragedies from behind a pair of hardened, almost dead-ooking eyes. It is a tragic contrast to her soft, lovely voice; her stance is strong, but weary, and she gives the impression of someone truly from another time. In contrast to her defeated nature, Lunde looks almost insane as his Burrs shouts of his troubles with Queenie. The two leads are successful in conveying a way of life that is wearing them out, and a relationship that is breaking them down.
Lippa calls the tale one that is driven by passions, by viciousness and recklessness that mirrors the time in which the characters lived, the Roaring Twenties, and the Chico Cabaret pulls off its portrayal with overwhelming success, putting on a party that engages the audience in the spectacle of moral decadence.