Betty Friedan, beware. While baby boomer feminists wore power suits and went by the title "Ms.," the second generation of the women's movement—led by Elizabeth Wurtzel, Camille Paglia, and Madonna—seemed more likely to wear leather corsets and lingerie while going by the title "Mistress." A backlash in the feminist movement resulted from women who, newly able to climb corporate ladders, suddenly found themselves desexualized and bereft of their identity as women. Riding a new wave of "do me" feminists who viewed pinup girls like Betty Page as sources of empowerment, burlesque has experienced a recent renaissance that is still going strong. A lot of guys like it too. Burlesque is a woman's invigorating embrace of her sexual identity, and a way for her to both subvert the male gaze by controlling the seduction fantasy and deconstruct any staid dynamics of the gender wars through humor. In fact, you might think of the tacky humor of burlesque as essentially camp for straight people.
The Orgy of the Dead, the new show produced by Do What Now Media, is a high-concept burlesque show couched in an homage to B-movie monster flicks. One dark and stormy night, a horror story writer, Bob (the delightfully corny Matthew Gray), and his uptight date, Linda (Carolyn Demisch), visit the cemetery for inspiration, only to discover that the ghouls and ghosts of the graveyard have come out to party. Captured by Wolfman (Adam Swiderski) and Mummy (Brandon Beilis), they must watch a procession of girls called up from the grave entertain the Emperor of the Dead (Josh Mertz) with their striptease acts.
These acts are broken up a few times by a parody of a 50's sitcom-cum-lounge-singing act, called "The Wolfman and Mummy Comedy Hour," complete with a booming laugh track that punctuates the intentionally nonexistent punch lines. The irony of the canned laughter and the shtick, however, is so easy and obvious, it can produce some genuine titters from the audience—so long as no one takes anything too seriously.
The show revels in its insouciant bad taste. What little plot there is has been inspired by a film of the same name by Ed Wood, the auteur who is infamous for such impassioned low-budget schlock as Glen or Glenda and Plan 9 From Outer Space (but who may be more familiar from Tim Burton's 1994 biopic Ed Wood, starring Johnny Depp in the titular role). For those not familiar with Wood, the plot that surrounds the burlesque is similar to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, minus Meatloaf.
The burlesque acts themselves featured lovely, lithe, and limber ladies whose choreography was generally faster and more dancelike than the slow and sultry "old school" burlesque that often features more buxom girls, who may be slightly zaftig by today's standards. Jessica Silver, playing a fashion victim, performed the traditional tassel twirl with aplomb, and Jessica Savage was noteworthy for her flexible rendition of an Amazon on the prowl.
While the ladies' moves were well performed, the pace seemed a bit rushed: the faux seduction of burlesque requires a slow tease, and one of the six girls might have been eliminated to give more time to the others to strut and strip their stuff at a more titillating tempo.
In addition, the culminating burlesque act, which featured the Empress of the Dead (Scarlet O'Gasm) as she's about to sacrifice the living flesh of Linda felt, well, a little dead. The beautiful Carolyn Demisch, playing Linda with a glamorous sass and a humorous touch, never takes off her vintage miniskirt-length coat—despite undoing her belt—nor does Ms. O'Gasm have much opportunity to showcase what promised to be her ample burlesque talents.
But these are really just quibbles. In burlesque it's not about how much skin a girl shows but how fabulous her costume is—including her makeup and undergarments. And the girls' outfits, constructed by Jennifer Leigh, were wonderful, down to their glittery lip gloss and their elbow-length satin gloves. One particularly funny getup was worn by Savage's Jungle Girl, who appeared in a silly African mask with tribal spear in hand. The monsters' costumes and the Emperor of the Dead's plaid lounge-lizard suit were appropriately cheesy.
Director Frank Cwiklik and choreographer Michele Schlossberg-Cwiklik showed obvious attention to details, down to the multimedia "advertisements" that greet one upon entering the theater and the cast's choreographed curtain bow. Moreover, the show has a great soundtrack that ranged from disco to doo-wop and included many comedic sound effects.
This burlesque show might have Betty Friedan rolling in her grave, but it'll more likely have you dying for more.