Saga of a Stripper Suffragette

Anyone who's seen the movie Showgirls knows it's easy to mock. The film's lame performances, abysmal dialogue, and embarrassing array of naked flesh make it difficult to take seriously. In fact, one could argue that because it's so bad, it would be a hard piece to satirize well: the film itself is almost a parody of ultra-racy movies of the 90's (think Basic Instinct, also written and directed by the Showgirls team). The creators of Showgirls: The Best Movie Ever Made. Ever! bring fresh mockery to the original by introducing screenwriter Joe Eszterhas into their irreverent mix. In their production, Jackie Flynn Clarke, a feminist professor at Queens Community College, interviews Eszterhas. Jackie is a fan of the film—she sees it as a potential vehicle for female empowerment—and with the help of her husband, John Clarke Flynn, and a group of amateur actors (all recruited from craigslist), she re-enacts scenes from the movie while posing questions to its writer.

Jackie clearly believes she has the gravitas of a Barbara Walters or James Lipton and treats Eszterhas with great reverence. "You're a friend to women," she tells him repeatedly. Interspersed with the recreated Showgirls segments are a video montage of the representations of Christianity in the Vegas performance number "Goddess" and the movie's entire "pool scene," shown without dialogue but enhanced by the movie's stage directions, read aloud.

This entire setup is delivered with a delightful vulgarity. The production is certainly not for the easily offended: the film clips include nudity, and the dialogue is raunchy. The actors playing Showgirls characters reproduce their dance numbers and sex scenes with libidinous abandon (in order to produce this play, somebody watched the movie many, many, many times). Everything works because all of the performers are completely un-self-conscious. The result is hysterical.

In the interview—the show's framing device—Jackie (credited as herself) and Eszterhas (John Reynolds) strike the right balance of earnest belief in their work and utter absurdity. Jackie's character is the perfect blend of lounge singer, drag queen, and politically correct academic. As for Eszterhas, Reynolds's foul mouth, exposed flabby belly, and swaggering machismo—plus his pasted-on beard and moustache—make him an uncanny likeness for the actual screenwriter.

The other member of the interview team, John Clarke Flynn (also credited as himself), has the important task of dramatically reading all of the movie's stage directions. He reminds the audience several times that "no stage directions were changed in the course of this production."

But the true star of the show was Lennon Parham as Nomi Malone, the "stripper suffragette." Parham has mastered the glazed, far-off look that, in the movie, Elizabeth Berkley passed off as acting. She even maintained her dignity when performing a lap dance to the theme song from Saved by the Bell. Her clever costume was a tight black top, worn under a pink halter; whenever the stage directions indicated that Nomi was topless (which was often), she pulled down the halter.

Her best moments were at the close of nearly every scene, when her character was supposed to emote heavily. Regardless of whether Nomi was expressing anger, sadness, or fear, Parham ended the scene with a high-pitched shriek and the destruction of a nearby object. This funny gag got funnier every time.

The rest of the cast did a great job in the supporting roles; each actor played multiple characters. Eric Bernat brought a wonderful physical presence to Henrietta and Marty, and was perfect in his black wig as Zach (played in the movie by Kyle MacLachlan). Julie Brister was commanding as Crystal, Nomi's nemesis, and should have had even more opportunities to show off her comic talents.

Jeff Hiller was not only funny but also quite a graceful dancer. Bobby Moynihan's portrayal of Nomi's best friend, Molly, was hilarious. He foreshadowed Molly's unhappy ending with a perfectly deadpan delivery of a line that kept the audience giggling long after he'd finished.

Will people who haven't seen the film get anything out of Showgirls: The Best Movie Ever Made. Ever!? Most likely. The show opens with an extended trailer from the movie, and each re-enacted scene is a reasonable facsimile of the original. Some jokes are reserved for those who've seen the movie more than a few times: the correct pronunciation of "Versace," or the taxicab that appears out of nowhere.

But the live version of Showgirls doesn't satirize just the film. It takes on Hollywood's excesses, the public's fascination with celebrity interviews, and even the academic appropriation of pop culture. There's definitely something for everyone, as long as you like things extremely funny and a little bit dirty.

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