I squeezed my way around the throngs of twentysomethings that had bottlenecked the path to the West Village bar, waiting to order their drinks in what they thought was only the line. Bumping into tables, stepping on shoes, I slowly traversed the packed floor of Junno's. I crossed over the makeshift stage: a lone microphone standing in a spotlight in a three-foot-square area at the back of the club. Elbowing my way to the bar, I signaled the bartender and took in my surroundings. This certainly was not an ordinary theater space. The press release I had been issued included only marginal information about the show, followed by a two-page, mostly incoherent, rambling story having something to do with fruit salad, Donald Rumsfeld playing Atari, and a Fanta being confiscated by the Secret Service. This certainly was not an ordinary show.
I thought that I was prepared for Deep Dish Cabaret. I thought that I was ready for anything. I was wrong.
The first performer of the evening was Stacy Nightmare (played by Karen Snyder), whose appearance lived up to her moniker. A wig (or was that actually her hair?) rested not-quite-right on her head. She wore glasses with fake eyes painted on them. And where her hands should have been, there were...lobster claws. She waddled up to the microphone and began delivering uncomfortably personal anecdotes about her sex life in a voice that sounded as if she was a love child born from the loins of Gilbert Godfried and Fran Drescher.
Though funny from start to finish, the high point of Stacy's set came as she was forced to take off her lobster claws so she could thumb through a collection of homemade Valentine's Day cards that were extremely vulgar, mildly psychotic, and absolutely hilarious. And yet, as offensive as Stacy Nightmare could have been, her routine had a very honest, self-deprecatory tone that kept the performer constantly in the audience's favor.
Jennifer Demeritt changed the show's atmosphere by reading an essay about her secret life. Corporate-world queen by day, Demeritt lets her bad side out to play a topless maid. Her essay provided a very interesting and stereotype-crushing (if not sometimes unfocused) dissection of the power plays involved in not just naked cleaning but all sexual relationships.
Again shifting gears, Clint McCallum performed as Butcher Slim, a honky-tonk guitar slinger who found musical inspiration watching late-night Star Trek reruns, among other things.
Patrick Borelli rounded out the first act. A seasoned stand-up comedian who has appeared on Late Night With Conan O'Brien, he found humor in the minutiae of life and expressed it in a decidedly non-Seinfeld-esque manner. Borelli seamlessly blended improvised riffs with rehearsed material. His story about wearing a red polo shirt to Staples and consequently having another customer confuse him for an employee had everybody in the bar laughing hysterically.
The second half of Deep Dish Cabaret moved away from straight comedy and into solo performance art, which was decidedly more funny and less serious than it may sound.
A man (and apparently a somewhat well-known performer) calling himself Zero Boy recounted an evening of yelling at his TV, drunken lust with a stranger, and nuclear apocalypse, using only vocal sound effects, hand gestures, and facial expressions. His was a truly unique form of storytelling.
Audrey Crabtree continued the show with a (literally) speechless performance of her own. As a shy librarian named Wednesday, she flirted with the boys and girls in the audience, bringing them up onstage to flirt and dance with her.
But words and noise came back to Deep Dish Cabaret with a vengeance as Eric Davis emerged onstage as Agent Whitbone, a Homeland Security Department agent who couldn't seem to keep his pants up. Garbed in costume wings and a clown's nose, Agent Whitbone tried his best to convince the audience to take him and his solutions to terrorism (which included balloons and yelling) seriously, with no success.
Rounding out the night was Neal Medlyn, who lip-synched a cheesy ballad before tearing off his clothes, jumping on a table, and screaming, "I ain't got no privates!" A one-trick pony, perhaps, but a decidedly funny one to witness.
The evening was emceed by Commander Leslie Gaye of the British Royal Marines. Though uncredited, I have strong reason to suspect he was actually producer Stephen Kosloff. Drink in hand, Gaye sometimes slowed the show down by rattling on a bit too long about nothing in particular. He also lost the Deep Dish Cabaret raffle prize, which sidetracked the action. He drew a few heckles from the drunk and unappreciative members of the audience, but I think he handled it all generally well, moving the show along without major incident and creating the fun and raucous atmosphere that the performers thrived upon.
All in all, I have to say that I would highly recommend Deep Dish Cabaret to anyone that enjoys being shoehorned into a crowded bar in order to drink excessively and laugh continuously at a variety of weird, loud, and debauched characters. However, if this sounds unappealing to you, I suggest you stay far, far away from the next monthly performance. Far, far away.