Happy Birthday, Cabaret Cataplexy

Last Monday evening was the fifth anniversary of Cabaret Cataplexy, an evening of "performance art, costume design, and music within a community of emerging and evolving artists in order to explore the cutting edge ideas that inform their work," performed on the fourth Monday of every month in the Lower East Side's Slipper Room and curated by performance artists Monstah Black and Ashley Brockington. Having survived for five years, one of them a dangerous pit of recession, Cabaret Cataplexy could reasonably be called a New York performance institution. Monday's line-up consisted of music, comedy and burlesque by an admirably multi-ethnic and often genderqueer group of performers. This reviewer's knowledge of burlesque is rather limited outside of its depiction in narrative theatre and film, but it seemed as if the six acts that performed on Sunday night ranged from the professional and genuinely creative to the opposite of both. For a series which introduces new artists and promises entertainment to loyal patrons, perhaps that is a good thing. No act seemed particularly "cutting edge," but some were entertaining or thought-provoking.

Cabaret Cataplexy is emcee'd by Ms. Brockington, appearing Monday night in a black silk top hat and a sparkly bikini top and skirt, denoting both extremes of straight patriarchal burlesque's voyeur-spectacle spectrum, her electric pink St Marks' tourist stall style wig celebrating artifice. Brockington maintains a great rapport with the audience, chatting with members impromptu between acts and zinging effortlessly between topics you'd expect in a burlesque show and ones you wouldn't. "I need you to concentrate on your negro roots and think of Lucy," she enjoined at one point. When the audience participation wasn't inspiring, she compensated smoothly. When one guest replied to the question "what brought you here tonight?" with the answer "The bartender Malik's friend Johnny," Brockington replied "the bartender Malik's friend Johnny. If that's not six degrees of separation, I don't know what is."

What of the acts themselves? From the back of the room, where this reviewer was, it was often difficult to hear or see anything, which makes this review incomplete, and, as I have said, the lineup was uneven. Least interesting was a lap dance performed onstage, apparently to an audience member, by a woman who sang to said audience member whilst said audience member giggled and the audience echoed the giggles. A band called SupaHero Gogo Star (this reviewer thinks she heard) consisted of amateurish, hollering lead singers in tamely genderqueer costume, beautifully harmonizing backup vocals, and saxophone.

A duo performed a "live cooking show" in which they promised to conjure "a batch of young, cute, brown, effeminate boys" from a picnic basket if the viewers shake their house keys and proffer spare change. This group consisted of the male magician and an assistant performer in an awful Amy Winehouse beehive with a self-consciously-babyish-woman's voice, like the love child of Marilyn Monroe and Jennifer Tilly on helium. If this was a parody of a woman, it was too close to common stereotype to be witty. During the incantatory dance, a banner reading "limp wristed fag" was unfurled and the performers mimed limp wrists and a homophobe's condemnatory scowl and finger wag. One act was absolutely unoriginal, cliched, and idiotic: "Cindy Silent," a man in a Catholic-schoolgirl plaid skirt and "Dirty Girl", a blond woman in a white dress, who performed with, and on, an inflatable sex doll, then paraded it through the audience to their exit.

One of the better performers, whose name this reviewer couldn't hear over the crowd, danced what appeared to be a conventional burlesque performance, like a mermaid, without a tail, but "swimming" in a tangle of blue and green diaphanous material, with seaweed-like string in her hair. Introduced by a pantomiming sailor-suited gawker, she soon divested herself of all her marine features, to the accompaniment of the song "I Just Want to be a Woman." The Little Mermaid of Hans Christian Andersen and Disney "just wanted to be a woman," too, but primarily in order to attract a prince. Conversely, Cataplexy's character appeared to adamantly claim her human dignity in her own right. That is an amazing plot for a burlesque act, one that critiques the ostensible reason for the medium's existence. If Cabaret Cataplexy features more acts like that one, it should go on for at least another five years.

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