Comedy, Theater / Performance

Bang by Charlotte Ford (04Sep12, Christ Church Neighborhood House)

What they say it is:

A hilariously bold and dangerously inventive comedic-clown-theater-spectacular, Bang answers the question—under the glow of a pink neon sex show sign—what happens if you get what you want?  Three of Philadelphia’s top physical and comedic performers—Charlotte Ford, Lee Etzold, and Sarah Sanford (of Pig Iron Theatre Company)—take the stage for a no-holds barred, sexually explicit, and hilarious exploration of nudity, desire, gender roles, and sexual arousal. Hosting are Cheyenne, a new-age spiritualist in indigo Thai fisherman pants; Gayle, who wears mom jeans, 5-inch cougar heels and is desperately in search of a sperm donor; and Barb, who recites Canterbury Tales in the original Old English, yet has mad tap skills. Playing with the head, heart, and groin, the show plays off the audience, and plays directly to them. Humans take sex very seriously. Bang approaches all things sexual from the perspective of clowns, and exploits the awkward humor in the strange shapes our naked bodies can make. Prepare yourself.


We were extra-psyched to see this Live Arts show, not only because we totally love the PLA/Fringe festival, but because this particular event was held in the space where—in 3 short months—we’ll be celebrating our wedding reception with one of our favorite bands!  Additionally, the hit of last year’s festival (The Devil and Mr. Punch) was staged in the same room . . . thus, we have fond associations for this venue, coming from every direction.

Bang was good; not great or epic, but good.  I’ll be honest (and maybe Tara will have a rebuttal of this view), but Bang felt a bit more ‘fringy’ than some of the higher-quality stuff we’ve seen in the Live Arts category.  Was it funny?  Sure.  Was it thought-provoking?  Somewhat. Was the production well-done?  Mostly (a few preview-night technical difficulties interrupted the show).  But in spite of several good things I can say about the show, I’ll admit that I was a bit disappointed that Bang never quite “gelled” into a cohesive narrative or demonstrated a visible, unique thesis.

Sexy, but what does it all mean?

Perhaps I misinterpreted (or missed) some of the hidden agenda, (again, Tara is welcome to set me straight), but the point of Bang seemed to be: We’re all sexual creatures, it’s worthwhile acknowledging our desires (especially the oft-repressed feminine drive), and that sex may be less titillating (or more commonplace, or even entertaining) if we look it straight in the eye.  Yet I feel like the show was something of a failure because I’m not even sure if I ‘got’ it; the atmosphere of the overall show veered between 4th-wall moments (actresses rushing into the audience to yank unsuspecting victims onto stage; players offering beers and snacks to the front row), intentional shock-value nudity (full female monty within the first 20 minutes), and simple comedy (goofy dances, strange costumes, plenty of screaming and chaos).  There were certainly funny moments scattered throughout the show (the high-pants would-be MILF was pretty hilarious, vamping on a good-sport audience member and generally lending the most refined acting chops to the show) but at the same time, much of the humor sort of undercut any sense of meaning, leaving me wondering if the show was intended as a purely good-time event, or was aspiring to something with a more weighty subtext.

I’m not sad that I attended Bang, but at the same time, I felt like some comedic aspects might have honestly been funnier (the show relies a bit heavily on crazy naked dancing) and that the show might benefit from a sharpening of it’s intentions.  As a male, I wouldn’t have objected to a slightly sexier cast (though I appreciate that body image and stereotypes might be on trial here), yet I wasn’t opposed to the cutest dancer leaping on Tara midway through the show to plant a passionate series of kisses right on her face (Tara, the wonderful sport that she is, responded by whipping off her librarian glasses and playing along in good fun).

Bang misses the mark in addressing the “big issues” it intends to promote – gender roles, desire and sexual arousal.  I feel awful saying it – but it felt more like nudity was done more to shock rather than enlighten.  There seemed to be some vital “spark” missing that would have elevated this very good show to a really great performance capable of making real social commentary.

But perhaps, I’m missing the slap-stick point?  It might be that in comparison to other funny burlesque I’ve seen (a variety of funny, witty, and satirical shows), the nudity in Bang! just didn’t provide the “shock value” or social commentary perhaps it intended, at least for this humble viewer.

Although funny and talented- Ms. Ford felt like an andy samburg imitation.  Rather than achieving witty commentary on female sexual proclivity or empowerment, her role in Bang! often felt like a bad Pat Saturday Night Live sketch.

Please do not misunderstand me, I really enjoyed this show.  One of the show’s highlights included a blackwidow Lazy Boy recliner- it first provides sexual pleasure, then betrays and eats the sitter.   As far as the actors in this show, I thought that the stand out performer was Lee Etzold in her role as the “cougar/mom” character.  I found her crowd interaction – during the show introduction, as well as during her sketch- to be very natural.  Ms. Etzold maintained control over the comic situation at all times and was entertainingly prepared for the unscripted reaction of the audience.  She did a wonderful job of raising the socially relevant, entertaining, and directly conflicting issues of a woman’s abject desperation for attention from men, while simultaneously playing servant to them, to the basic desire to procreate.  Her character was “over the top” but remained believable, realistic enough to find empathy for, and generally well-thought-out.

Whatcha gonna do with that mixer?



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