Perverted Pleasure

Offensive. Appalling. Dirty. Vulgar. Inappropriate. Obscene. The Banger's Flopera: A Musical Perversion embodies all those qualities and one more: brilliant. The brainchild of Inverse Theater Artistic Director Kirk Wood Bromley, with exhilarating music by John Gideon, The Banger's Flopera is playing at the Village Theatre as part of the 2005 New York International Fringe Festival. It is not to be missed. Flopera updates John Gay's 18th-century play The Beggar's Opera to perversely dizzying heights. The beggars, hookers, and crooks of the 18th century are replaced with modern-day pimps, gangsters, porn stars, and pop stars. The story revolves around the infamous Mac "Macky" the Knife, here a pornographer and gangster, and his band of degenerate, sexually ambiguous misfits. As Mac cheats, steals, and murders his way to death row, he falls in lust with the pure, pubescent Polly Peacock. Their twisted Romeo and Juliet story mirrors society's obsession with a corrupt culture and government.

Nothing is sacred as playwright and lyricist Kirk Wood Bromley pushes the envelope, lights it on fire, and then throws gasoline on it. Bromley is a master of language, stringing together his words into a poetic menagerie of double entendres, alliteration, and onomatopoeia. His world is so bizarre it defies reason, and it breaks all the rules of conventional musical theater. The story's heroine, Polly, sings a beautiful, yearning ballad while seated on a toilet, and the toilet later serves as a conduit for a love song between Polly and Mac.

The music is transcendent. John Gideon's exceptional, 16-song score includes rap, rock, torch songs, power ballads, and traditional Broadway fare with a demented twist. The obligatory group dance number is a lasciviously naughty anthem about the depraved joys of porn (as performed by a group of adult movie stars), while the finale climaxes (literally) against the backdrop of an execution. The music is brought to vivid life by Nate Brown, Taylor Price, Brad Gunyon, and Gideon himself.

The gifted cast of 17 operates as if they were a single unit. Everyone stands out and works with such conviction and passion, the audience quickly realizes it is witnessing the birth of something special. Joe Pindelski as Mac gives a star-making performance, and the two-hour-plus show lives and breathes off his every move. His voice is part leading man, part monster rock balladeer, and entirely inspiring. April Vidal as Polly transforms herself from precocious pop tart to naughty nymphet in the blink of an eye. Her precise comedic timing is matched only by her gorgeous, "my God can she sing" voice.

Dan Renkin and Anni Bruno tear up the stage as Polly's protective parents, Jonathan and Mimi. On a mission to save their virginal daughter from Macky's defiling deflowering, Renkin and Bruno play their stereotypical "Mom" and "Dad" roles with an over-the-top abandon that's a giddy delight.

Catherine McNelis as porn star Loosy Brown manages to make you laugh and breaks your heart even as she never loses her skanky core. John McConnel, Lydia Burns, and Randall Middleton generate countless laughs as Mac's band of malevolent misfits.

Ben Yalom directs this revelation with fiendish delight. He never loses sight of the story or its dark message, effectively directing the cast of 17 to intelligent, polished performances. The inspired set by Jane Stein captures Bromley's depraved world perfectly, proving itself to be versatile and efficient as each of the three weathered, metallic set pieces creates more than a dozen different settings. Karen Flood's costumes are a spark of creative genius, particularly her anatomically correct porn-star attire.

While the second act is slightly disjointed and perhaps a few minutes too long (particularly the 11th-hour political diatribe), The Banger's Flopera is a celebrated journey of epic proportions. It leaves one feeling exhausted, excited, and wanting even more.

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