If you have ever had trouble reconciling a closeted love for ‘70s musicals with an appreciation of “higher” forms of theater—cough—then What’s Your Poison: A Cabaret Experience will prove a respectable antidote.
The show is clear about the era-conscious problems it confronts: widespread experimental drug use, interpersonal disconnection and the dubious space between addiction and control. But you need to combine those themes with interpretive dance, aerialists and an array of musical covers of musicians like Tom Waits, Pink Floyd, Leonard Cohen and Cat Stevens to have a sense of the organized amalgam that’s at hand.
At a dress rehearsal on a Sunday evening, days before the fully realized version of the show was ready, the Green Room bar was empty. From behind the closed door leading to the stage area, sporadic drumbeats filtered through a hedge of muted laughter. I took that sound as my cue to follow down the rabbit hole.
A fly-on-the-wall moment revealed a promising scene: Actors conversed energetically in small clusters around the room while athletic dancers stretched their leg muscles on the couch upholstery. If these people had to stretch, I thought, they were preparing for some serious theater.
The Green Room Juxtaposeurs are a frenetic blend of physical and musical theater. What’s Your Poison? is the troupe’s fourth performance. It was written along to writer/director Jill Snyder’s “inner soundtrack.” All of the songs—played live in-theater by a three-piece band as the actors and dancers perform on stage—are covers of tracks like “Perfect Love” by The Residents and “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane. You get the sense during the show that someone has been singing these songs in the shower—a lot.
What’s Your Poison? is a successful cabaret show, sometimes edging slightly closer toward a transgressive musical than a typical stage performance. There is subtle comedy, a somewhat bawdy striptease performed to spoken-word Velvet Underground and dancers who perform soulful “acrotango” to the soothing sounds of Tears for Fears. By the way, acrotango is just what it sounds like: a portmanteau of the words acrobatics and tango. You will see a lot of acrotango in What’s your Poison? so it’s a pretty good idea to get comfortable with the term before you head out to the theater.
In just over an hour, taking into account numerous rehearsal stoppages, I had seen 10 of the approximately 27 song/acts that would be performed before the actual show audience. I began thinking about taking my last notes when Snyder shouted into the mic, “Oh, let’s do ‘Comfortably Numb!'” I planted myself back onto the couch. There was no way in hell I was missing a live performance of “Comfortably Numb"—I didn’t care what it sounded like. As it turned out, it sounded pretty good.
A terrific evening spent stomping through the angst-ridden territory of my parents’ music came to a close when Snyder handed me my coda.
“You know the lyrics … You’ve got to get in to get out,” she said.
“Well, the idea is that you can’t pretend to have transcended something. You have to go through it.”
She was speaking of addiction, healing, personal exploration and all that jazz. Such truisms had been tossed my way throughout the evening, but I didn’t mind. They had provided me with an improvised soundtrack.