Comedy, Theater / Performance

We Need Your Support!!! A PBS Burlesque (Walking Fish Theater, 17Feb12)

We’ve attended burlesque shows at WFT in the past, so we had a decent idea what we were in for.  WFT is a small, cozy bare-bones theater in the Kensington neighborhood that includes seating for about 40 people.  The bathroom is mere inches from the stage, and even the worst seat in the house is less than 20 feet from the stage.  In accordance with the modest (yet entirely adequate) space, WFT shows tend to fall into the “spirited amateur” category, usually encompassing the ambitions, sentiment and general quality of a mid-level Fringe performance. CLAY SAYS....We Need Your Support!! was similar to our previous visits to WFT.  Staged as a PBS (Public Burlesque System) fund drive, the show consisted of a series of comedic strip-tease acts loosely staged as parodies of the familiar public television canon.  I’ll admit that, before seeing the show, the concept struck me as a flirtation with train-wreck territory (Ernie and Burt in bed together, perhaps?) but, in the end, worked perfectly well as a medium for gut-level laughs and a raucous evening out.

It must be said that the show greatly benefitted from some legitimate corporate sponsorship; The El Bar had donated a $25 gift certificate to be awarded to the “best audience member”, which, we were told, translated into “loudest silliest most involved person in the room”.  Before the host could even finish explaining the concept, the audience (including myself) was howling with commentary, quipsters, and over-loud cheering.  No doubt, in this case, flagrant bribery worked to the benefit of all—though only one attendee would win the prize, we were all having a much better time in competition for the win.

The show’s framing narrator—a staid, overly ironic telethon host—was the weakest link of the gig, delivering his monologs in a stilted, self-conscious fashion—even appearing to forget his lines at times–though it may be that he was put off his game by the cacophony of a fully bribed, fired-up audience.  Other cast members put on stronger performances, though it should be recalled that this troupe isn’t aiming at highbrow theatrics—Patrick Stewart would have had a tough time looking dignified in this show. 

One of the 3 women who performed in PBS.

The ladies in this show were legitimately sexy, though I can’t claim that I was floored by any of the strip-tease routines.  The show’s strongest assets were, in my opinion, the ridiculous framing devices of public television–a risky juxtaposition that ended up as a great device for getting laughs.  A muppet yanks the clothes off an innocent young woman, Carmen Santiago sheds her trenchcoat and is seduced by a suspect, and Clifford the Dog undergoes a bizarre transformation into a loudmouthed bossy dyke.  Not all of these were complete successes, but I can’t say that I had many complaints, either.  In general, the show would be recommended for people who enjoy lowbrow humor, Fringe-style theater, or simply like amateur burlesque in a truly ‘Philadelphia’ environment.  Alternatively, I’d avoid bringing my beloved parents to a show of this sort, and would recommend avoiding WFT (in general) for anyone with more conservative taste in humor—they tend to err on the side of liberalism here.

For me, the show was a 90 minutes of my life well-spent, and even though I didn’t win the gift certificate, I left Walking Fish glad for the experience.

What i like best about burlesque is partly the company i keep (Clay) . . . i love so much that when we leave the theatre we talk about topics like feminism, or gender roles in American society, or why specific themes did or didn’t work, or the art of parody in the modern burlesque revival . . . rather than having only a revved up randy partner (i mean, that part can be cool too, but a lively verbal discourse keeps the car ride home safe-wink!) ANYWAY, the juxtaposition of children’s television and sexuality hit our collective psyche in an interesting way.

With regard to the show, I liked the Carmen Santiago segment and found the performances to be well thought-out and well performed. The costumes were good and fit the themes performed.  As a woman, I guess I was supposed to like the male stripper but I gotta say, he was weak compared to the ladies.

In general, I love attending WFT, thanks to the simple fact that this is a group of hard working individuals who are generating the script, making their own costumes and props, and putting on a play because they love it–certainly NOT because they are being well-compensated for their devotion. WFT deserves a packed, enthusiastic house every performance, and I don’t even think the bribes should be necessary. In our era of on-demand entertainment from Netflix and iPad, this group’s commitment to theater and burlesque should be supported simply because it’s great.

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