Everyone wants his or her 15 minutes of fame, and those desiring an hour and a half can find it at the Belt Theater in This or That! Parodying a low-budget game show, This or That! is a strange hybrid of game show, burlesque performance, and reality television. It is hosted by The Great Fredini (Fred Kahl), a wonderfully formulaic host dressed in a purple polyester leisure suit and a gaudy gold chain. Also hosting is his sidekick (Julie Atlas Muz), who plays up her significant physical assets in just a purple bustier, thong and fishnets, and whose comedic facial gestures are worth a thousand words, though she stays mostly silent. The production is clever and has great stock characters, but it's also raunchy. There is definitely an audience who will enjoy the show tremendously, even if it doesn't include this critic.
The game's gimmick is choosing real audience members. Four men and four women are plucked from the audience and told to fake an orgasm onstage. The audience then votes on the one female and one male whom they want to participate in the show. The audience vote cleverly rigs the situation, as, without fail, they choose the biggest hams.
The selected audience members are just as funny as the actual performers; these seemingly normal people morph into real characters when thrust into the spotlight. In fact, one would swear they had been planted. (They're not, but I was only sure of that after asking later.)
The audience's involvement is one of the highlights of This or That! The Belt Theater is not a large venue, but it is ideal for a show like this. The house lights stay on throughout the performance, and alcohol flows freely (you can refresh a drink during brief commercial breaks). Some competitions involve the entire audience, as Fredini promises a prize to the first person to produce a Texas quarter, a blue lipstick, or a colored condom. Theatergoing is seldom so communal an experience.
One man and a woman competed for $500 in "absolutely worthless This or That! dollars," as Fredini explained. They traded clothes onstage and picked cherries out of whipped cream using only their mouths, and the winner got to choose between the "This" or "That" curtain. Depending on which curtain they chose, either a great or awful act would come out, Fredini said. (Earlier he had admitted during a spin-the-wheel game that "where the wheel stops...makes absolutely no difference at all," acknowledging the fixed nature of much of the game despite the randomness in the audience participation.)
It was during the banana-eating contest between the two participants (both teamed with burlesque performers) that I started to feel uncomfortable. It descended into a potassium-ingesting orgy, with people putting bananas in all sorts of unmentionable places and then writhing in a heap onstage. Whereas prior acts had been in a spirit of fun, now I just felt bad for the poor souls who had somehow been seduced by the spotlight's lure into humiliating themselves so profoundly. (The production is actually taped and played on a New York City cable channel on Sunday at midnight, so the audience witnessing any humiliation is even larger then.)
In the moments when the bawdier aspects took a backseat and true burlesque talent was on display, the show really shined. The special guest performers