Theater / Performance

Midnight Monster Mayhem (Walking Fish Theater, 18Nov11)

What they say it is (from the Walking Fish Theater website):

Countess Paulina’s Midnight Monster Mayhem Movies has scared and consoled the damned and dateless every Friday night on WWFTB for years. Now the station wants to replace her with an infomercial! What is a hapless horror host to do? A burlesque cavalcade of beautiful women, horrible movies, hunchback assistants and really bad puns brought to you by Walking Fish Burlesque.


Please note: This post includes no visual supplements, as the theater discouraged photography and the theater’s own website lacks any useful material.  I’ve reached out to the theater to request a few photographs, and will add when possible.

We headed to Midnight Monster Mayhem (MMM) on a last minute Friday night whim.  Once again, we’ve got to show gratitude to the Philly Funsavers Guide for offering VERY affordable tickets ($7.50 apiece–half the normal price).  This was our first visit to Fishtown’s aptly named Walking Fish Theater, giving us another great reason to catch this particular offering.  Were we taking a risk, given the campy advertisement? Definitely.  But the price was right–and we had nothing else to do–so it seemed like a worthwhile risk.

Upon our arrival, the MC greeted us at the door and personally guided us to two of the last open spots in Walking Fish’s microscopic theater (seats 40 at most).  The introduction was already underway, which, in this case, consisted of monster movie trailers projected onto the stage backdrop.  The corny titles and blood-splattering content were pure goofy gold, serving to establishing an informal, LOL atmosphere.  Lame special effects, ridiculous titles, nausea-inducing ‘acting’ . . . by the time the actual (live) performers took the stage, an audience of strangers had been drawn into the community of camp.

Before covering the actual show, I need to give special acknowledgement to the evening’s oddest moment.  The final trailer, anticipating the sexy burlesque theme of MMM, revived a forgotten ‘gem’ of a movie… ‘Kissin’ Cuzzins’.  A Google search for this item comes up empty (just raw, unrelated porn hits), but safe to say, we were NOT being shown scenes from Elvis’ similarly-titled film.  Unlike the rest of the D- horror trailers, the audience was suddenly nose-to-nose with an unbelievable array of southern-incest-themed porno.  Imagine the Beverly Hillbillies transported into a realm of twisted erotic fantasy . . . yep.  The room erupted into stunned gasps and murmurs, shortly giving way to disbelieving, “oh-my-gawd” laughter.  Unclothed yokel bodies pumped each other in full cinematic glory while we all tried to pretend we weren’t just watching porn in a weird little theater with perfect strangers.

And then the real performance began.

If you’re familiar with Elvira, you’ve got the template for MMM.  The show takes place at a critical moment for Countess Paulina’s (the Elvira stand-in) under-appreciated midnight film fest—a nefarious station manager wants to cancel her show.  The story plays out in five-minute vignettes of explosive overacting and larger-than-life cartoonish character types.   Each scene inevitably concluded with a burlesque strip-tease event (regardless of any narrative continuity) which caught me off guard at first, but quickly became a welcome (if somewhat repetitive) aspect of the show.  MMM combined the ridiculousness of horror film culture with the requisite teenage eroticism we see in so many of these movies—a unique approach this overlooked side-avenue of americana.  Points for originality.

The performers varied from spot-on to passable; all garnered laughs, though I found myself wondering if over-dramatic camp protects aspiring actors from the need to do any actual acting.  For me, the standout performance came from hunchback Clurb (Gina Marino) whose slavering Igor-inspired role let her incorporate physical comedy with the split personality of a disinterested hack-actress forced to fawn over a diva lead lady.  On the other hand, I couldn’t reach a verdict regarding the would-be pimp-daddy station manager … his delivery struck me as uninspired stock, though I can’t deny that his unexpected strip tease was one of the funniest moments of the show.

In general, the show worked for me.  Slightly above amateur theater, yet not aiming at the Broadway set, MMM landed somewhere in the vicinity of a typical Fringe festival highlight.   Midnight Monster Mayhem staged itself as a lighthearted romp, aspiring to goals no higher (or lower) than an evening of laughter and goofy fun.  Mission accomplished—and I’ll gladly return to the Walking Fish for more of the same.

Monster movies and burlesque . . . two concepts that don’t usually fit together.  However, the Walking Fish production last Friday night did a sufficient job.  The theme of the production was an Elvira-esque character (Countess Paulina) being pushed out of her late night ghoul spot by her new TV producer/manager in favor of other, more profitable programming.  The Countess provides levity to the night and acts as hostess to introduce a “horror film” which, in the Walking Fish show, turns out to be a series of burlesque strip-tease acts performed with monster movies as a backdrop. 

There were a total of six burlesque numbers (shared between 4 actors) and a group production for the finale.  My first favorite was a masked Spanish wrestler who oozed confidence.  She proudly took the stage in cape, wrestling mask and Day of the Dead mask.  The removal of each item was done with shouts from the crowd.  I found this to be the most entertaining and pleasing tease of the night.  Also, the theme of the spider woman was clever; her number included a surprising costume that included spider baby eggs bursting from her top.  Doubly funny were the terrible puns and ridiculous comments of the hunchback Clurb as she cleared discarded clothing from the stage. 

I am enjoying what feels like a resumed cultural interest in burlesque, and I applaud these women for their talented efforts, and for putting these sorts of shows together.  I can’t help but feel that there is a feminist touch to their performances and intention; many of the burlesque shows I’ve seen have included ‘non-traditional’ body shapes and a range of ages.  They own their bodies, reveling in them as much as the crowd.  They projected joy as they were performing for the group, and the audience was certainly enjoying it.  Thank you ladies (and gentleman)!



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