Paris Is Yearning

Founded in 2006 by director and choreographer Austin McCormick, Company XIV has developed a signature fusion of theater, classical and modern dance, opera, drag, circus, live music, burlesque, and performance art. The title of its latest creation, Paris, is a double entendre of sorts—referring at once to the beloved City of Light as well as the legendary prince of Troy. Indeed, Paris unites Grecian gods and goddesses with Parisian flâneurs and can-can girls, resulting in an indulgent, adults-only revue of sublime talent.  Jakob Karr as Paris and Todd Hanebrink as Mercury in "Paris." Top: Members of the chorus. Photos by xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxx.

With the peeling walls of the Irondale Center (a former church) as a fitting backdrop, Paris interweaves elements of French bohemia into the Greek myth “The Judgment of Paris.” In this legend, the titular character receives a golden apple from the gods and is charged to award it to the fairest goddess. He chooses Venus, who reciprocates the award with her own, the famed beauty Helen of Troy—thereby triggering the Trojan War. This myth provides a suitable structure for Paris, but the show’s value lies not in its plot but in the variety of performances encountered by Paris (Jakob Karr) on his quest to rid himself of his golden apple.

From his tête-à-tête with Juno (Randall Scotting) to his final rendezvous with Helen (Lea Helle), Karr is stunning as Paris in every context. His duet with Mercury, played by Todd Hanebrink, is especially touching—featuring a series of lifts executed with lightness, yet also with a grounded athleticism. In his visit to the final goddess, Venus, Karr takes a back seat to Storm Marrero's house-filling vocals. Although Marrero, a woman of color, diversifies the show's cast, it is as a singer. Her curvaceous Venus stands in contrast to the dancers (inexplicably, too, her character bears the Roman name for the goddess, rather than Aphrodite). One hopes that the company's pursuit of diversity will eventually spread to the dancers.

Though many modern burlesque companies focus on the female body, Company XIV’s treatment of gender is slightly more fluid. As the dual character Zeus/Fifi, Charlotte Bydwell literally embodies this fluidity as she switches from male god to female coquette. Her costume, designed by Zane Pihlstrom, is half suit and half ball gown, so that Bydwell appears as Zeus when facing stage right and Fifi when facing stage left. This visual gag is delightful at first, but becomes tired by the end of the show. Overall, however, Pihlstrom’s costumes are breathtaking in their dynamism—from a two-tone reversible sequin dress for Venus to the ensemble’s assortment of spangled codpieces.

Members of the chorus. Photos by xxxxxxx xxxxxxx.

Jeanette Yew's ingenious lighting design illuminates the gorgeous clothing, implementing an array of sources such as sparkling chandeliers, exposed-bulb footlights, and most notably, a vintage Hollywood director’s’ spotlight on wheels that provides the show’s final iconic vignette.

There are many elements that make this show special and worth seeing, but perhaps its most universal appeal is that—just like the many glimmering rhinestones on the costumes—Paris shines light on a great many facets of human sexuality. There are, of course, moments of tawdry thrusting and heaving piles of quaking bodies; yet there are, too, silhouettes of lovers that steal one’s breath away, and even quieter moments of solitude and fear that expose the vulnerabilities integral to human sexuality. In Paris, sex is funny, scary, beautiful, sad, and, ultimately, a yearning mystery.

Paris runs through Nov. 12 at the Irondale Center (85 South Oxford St. between Fulton Street and Lafayette Avenue in Brooklyn). The show, which contains partial nudity, is open to those 16 and over.  Performances are at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Tickets start at $25. To book seats, couches or VIP tickets, call (866) 811-4111 or visit www.companyxiv.com.

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Tongue, Meet Cheek

Follow Nasty Drew (no not a typo) and the Harder boy (well, there is only one after all) as they attempt to solve The Mystery of the Family Jewels, a fun, sexy, raucous evening of tongue-in-cheek comedy, a little drag (hello, family jewels?) and some outrageous burlesque. What burlesque has to do with a spoof of the teen-mystery-novel genre is a good question, but somehow they seriously pull it all together and take it all off. 

The mystery is set up by Franklin W. Dixon and Carolyn Keene, respective authors of the super sleuths’ series, The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. Tigger! as Dixon and Fancy Feast as Keene are as colorful as their names, in a Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid kind of way, and create a playful, publishing-world rivalry. When Dixon attempts to engage Keene in a dialogue about the Hardy Boys, she dismisses him with, “Those two boys, always carousing around in that flashy convertible, always seeking to emulate and please the Hardy patriarch. Such strong father issues.” Dixon, not to be outmaneuvered, refers to Nancy Drew’s “questionable relations with those lady ‘cousins’ of hers…” The evening is filled with double entendres (“It’s even more colossal than my ‘Case of the Mysterious Hole in the Wall’”) and early Batman/Boy Wonder dialogue (“Jumpin’ catfish, what is it?”) Laughter, mixed with a ton of silliness and a whole lot of skin, will certainly chase the workday blues away.

Dixon and Keene introduce Nasty Drew (Nasty Canasta) and That Harder Boy (Chris Harder) who take on solving The Mystery of the Family Jewels, which is written and directed by Harder. In the course of the investigation, they meet with the buxom Lady Sussanah LaVeux De Cock; her bawdy cousin Mona Crackers; randy Police Chief McDaniels; the mechanic with lesbian tendencies Nadina North; and Cecilia “Sissy” LaVeux De Cock, Lady LaVeux De Cock’s estranged “twin” sister, among others. (The characters are played by a rotating cast of performers based on the show’s schedule.)

In The Mystery of the Family Jewels the puns, sight gags and extraordinary burlesque keep coming. Pearls Daily as Mona Crackers, who is purportedly from the wrong side of the tracks, delivers a 1920s style flapper number in a wonderful homage to the queen of burlesque, Gypsy Rose Lee. Nasty Canasta follows with a funny and entertaining undercover number employing a fake nose, glasses and mustache, which at first glance seems silly, but just wait.

Feast, who also plays North, Brookeville’s “semiretired, show-stopping sensation of stage and screen,” performs a most bodacious burlesque piece and steals the show with dialogue in the manner of legendary Mae West. Not to be outdone, the men have their own time baring all in the limelight. Ben Franklin as Police Chief McDaniels pulls off “You’ve gotta have a gimmick” burlesque that is straight—in this context used loosely—from Gypsy with hula hoops, the unbelievably limber Tigger! takes it down to a sock puppet, and Chris Harder woos the fans in his unforgettable, charming style, sock garters and all.

The show is sponsored in part by a few local businesses, and commercials are written into the script to promote them. It’s a fun gimmick that needs more attention to detail in the venerable, radio announcer style. Although issues with the show's sound and lighting may be attributed to the slightly random performance schedule, the biggest drawback is that some comic lines can’t be heard and sound levels overpower a few of the songs.

It’s evident that the Mystery of the Family Jewels has a following with a rowdy, adoring audience in attendance, and it’s easy to see why. The cast, taking their lead from Harder and Canasta, has a blast giving their all and baring all. If they break character or a prop doesn’t appear as expected, don’t be surprised, it just adds to the frivolity.

Performances of Mystery of the Family Jewels are 10 p.m. April 29 and  May 13 and 9:30 p.m. May 1 and 15 at the Laurie Beechman Theater inside West Bank Cafe (407 West 42nd St.at Ninth Avenue). The theater is accessible from the A,C,E,N,R,V,F,1,2,3 trains at 42nd Street. Tickets are $22, plus a $20 food/drink minimum. A $35 VIP ticket includes reserved seating, a gift bag and a meet-and-greet. To purchase tickets, call 212-352-3101 or visit www.SpinCycleNYC.com.

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