When traffic cones dream
Review: A Peep Show Named Desire
What happens to Blanche Dubois after the end of A Streetcar Named Desire? According to Tennessee Williams, her afterlife was one of survival and rebirth, and in interviews he’s suggested that she seduces the doctors in her sanitarium and then on her release, sets up her own boutique in the French Quarter. No longer reliant on kind strangers, post-Streetcar Blanche is a self-actualising dynamo.
This is the background to A Peep Show Named Desire, a new burlesque play by local artistic polymath, Lefty Lucy. Lefty plays the role of Blanche, aided and abetted by some charmingly diverting support. The show begins with two ‘birdies’, played with cheeky charisma by Rebeckah Gordon-Kirk and Scarlet Letta, who skillfully smooth the transitions as a kind of saucy Greek Chorus. Since Blanche is played silently, they relate the changing scenarios and break the fourth wall hilariously, chiding the audience with sassy outbursts: “Aren’t y’all glad you bought tickets?!”
We meet Blanche as she reclines louchely in her room at the Tarantula Motel, surrounded by piles of colorful, vintage suitcases. This is a testament to her literal and figurative baggage, as well as Destany Gorham and Amara Skinner’s inventive production design. She’s roused from her slumber by a handsy arachnid, leading into a routine that combines slapstick, hand puppetry and a deft switch into a reverse striptease. The jazz soundtrack adds to the feel of a bawdy silent move, Lefty’s instantly endearing skills as a physical comedian and accomplished rhythmic performer on full display from the get-go. Farcical seduction is a hard line to nail, but Lefty walks the tightrope with aplomb.
As the scene changes, we’re introduced to the arrestingly talented vocalist Jessica Mixon, who embellishes each scene with gloriously inventive takes on beloved standards. She pops up variously as a 1920s ingenue and an unsettling, David Lynchian-lounge singer. Most uproariously, though, she tears up the room with an emphatically cocky, gender-blind charge through ‘It’s a Man’s World’, replete with wonderfully melodramatic James Brown-esque cape theatrics from the swooning birdies. It’s a legitimately exciting, imperial performance and Mixon’s voice is never less than captivating.
Meanwhile, Blanche is pinballing her way through post-Streetcar life. As she’s romanced by off-stage lotharios, Lefty brings out some glorious classic burlesque and a rousing lip-synch of Shelley Duvall’s knowingly coy ‘He Needs Me’. Peter Canavallo’s light and sound design come to the fore as chaotic colors swarm around the stage, a backdrop to Blanche’s mental turmoil. Lefty switches seamlessly between cute, powerful, alluring and unhinged as corsets, feathers and fur-lined lingerie is donned and discarded with dexterity, élan, and sometimes fury.
The Birdies mock the architects of Blanche’s downfall as she rises from her demise as a forceful survivor, at one point goading the whole room into sarcastically yelling “STEEEEELLLLLAAAAA”, in an exhilarating spoof of the play’s most famous scene. Blanche’s ultimate victory in self-preservation comes to a heady climax with an electrifying escape act, bonds broken and chains (as well as clothing) cast off in a final act of strutting defiance.
Lefty Lucy and director Lauren E. Turner have created a thrillingly compact and sexily nimble show that is at once silly, touching, enticing and inspiring. Glamorous costume design by Xena Zeit-Geist, David Withrow and Jahireen gild an already eye-catching lily, and the cast and crew create an engaging, animated world that draws you in from the first scene.
It’s a triumphant showcase of Lefty Lucy’s talents, from comedic to sensual, and lots in between. The staging is a satisfyingly accomplished evolution of what in her own words started out a couple of years ago as “a scrappy burlesque show”. It’s an empowering romp, a celebratory tweak of the nose of oppression, and one where in the end, Blanche wins - and in terms of sheer entertainment, so do we.
A Peep Show Named Desire runs at The AllWays Lounge: Saturday May 7 @ 10:30pm, Sunday May 8 @ 5pm and Monday May 9 @ 8pm. Tickets
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PREVIEW: A Peep Show Named Desire
Welcome to the Peep Seats
It’s a challenge - in New Orleans, at least - to bring innovative, theatrical zeal to Tennessee Williams’ most famous work, A Streetcar Named Desire. However, that’s exactly what panoramically-versatile local performer, Lefty Lucy, is aiming for with her upcoming production, A Peep Show Named Desire.
We catch up with her as she’s pasties-deep into rehearsals with her four-person cast and assorted crew, and as opening night approaches, her excitement is palpable. What started out as a quasi-theatrical showcase at the Tennessee Williams Theater Festival in Provincetown last year has blossomed into what promises to be a dazzling, full-scale production.
“The show (in Provincetown) wasn’t fully realized,” she says, “But even so, it was gangbusters. It sold out, got great reviews and I was validated as a person and as an artist in a way I didn’t even know I could be.”
“A performer who I really respect saw the show and said that she didn’t realize how powerful burlesque could be until then. She said that she had to reassess what she thought of the art form! That’s a recommendation I’m going to be quoting for the next thirty years!”
That’s quite the inspirational review, but while most people might be tempted to rest on their Spanish Moss-fringed laurels, Lefty has spent time developing the script and adding musical numbers to arrive at this brand new evolutionary stage of the show.
“We have a scenery designer (Destany Goram) and a costume designer (Xena Zeit-Geist), and a whole crew…it went from scrappy burlesque show to (adapts dramatic personae voice) legitimate theater!”
Lefty enthuses about the team, and it’s clear that the process of having additional people working on the show is elevating her own artistic reach.“There are things that people are bringing to (the show) that I didn’t even imagine.” she says, “Simply because they’re not me, and that’s so wonderful!”
“I’m excited to be hiring Lauren Turner (director) and Amara Skinner (production manager), and just letting them do their job.” A real life case of teamwork making the dream work? “Yes! You CAN do everything yourself but you might not do it well.”
As we talk more about the show’s format and content, it becomes clear that there’s more to it than a bawdy romp through Williams’ world. “Perspective is a key part of this show,” says Lefty. “I’d kind of avoided Blanche DuBois, but to do that is a disservice to the character and women as a whole. Also, with her character, Williams is also acknowledging in the way he could, that these perspectives (of oppression) exist. I can only bring my perspective as a white woman to this show, but that’s not the only story being told.”
The other cast members (‘The Birdies’ and a vocalist, Jessica Mixon) are all black women, and Lefty tells us that they’re being very conscientious. “Through this casting and staging, hopefully we can relate a broader spectrum of experience. There’s lots of layers to these Williams plays,” she says.
The basic structure of the show is classic vaudeville, in that it has music and comedy and burlesque. “The joy of this show is that you can decide who the star is,” says Lefty. “If you relate to the comedy, for example, the burlesque is the palate cleanser. There’s puppetry and a reverse striptease and an escape act. The vocalist is singing songs that are powerful and significant on their own, and embody Blanche’s experience. But everything hopefully reflects that Blanche’s experience isn’t unique to her. If you walk out thinking Lefty was fine but I loved the vocalist, or those two Birdies had me rolling, that’s great! I’m riding a high tide that raises all ships.”
It’s an attempt to tell a story that’s familiar to audiences but in a way that they haven’t thought of before. The show starts before Streetcar begins, and it ends after Streetcar finishes. “It’s inspired by a quote from Tennessee Williams,” she says. “An actor in the UK cast asked him ‘What happens after curtain?’ and he said ‘Blanche seduces orderlies in the asylum, and then she gets out and opens a boutique in the French Quarter’ - it’s important to note that Blanche is the only heroine of Williams that he didn’t let end in tragedy. I see her as such a survivor and a fighter.”
There’s also an interpretation that Williams was using the character of Blanche DuBois to talk about his own experiences as a gay man in the 1940s. “Tennessee Williams was supposed to be at the top of society but he had to hide some of his character,” Lefty says.
“There are structural implications. Blanche DuBois has all the trappings of privilege, but she’s called ‘crazy’ and ‘a whore’ and ‘manipulative’, so if she’s thought of this way, what hope does anyone have? These structures don’t work for anyone, they isolate people to keep us weak. We’re all harmed by them.”
It seems like the show has everything from the glamor of burlesque through tragi-comic humor to incisive illustrations of the ways that society traps us. “I’d say that this show is a comedic striptease romp that you can have the time of your life at, or you can be haunted by it for the rest of your life and you can do something to change things!”
It’s hard to imagine not finding something in that description to latch on to. In the meantime, people of New Orleans can prepare to board a multi-layered, brand new ‘Streetcar’.
A Peep Show Named Desire runs at The AllWays Lounge, from May 6th-9th. More info and tickets here.
REVIEW: Queer Bingo @ Capulet
MY EYES ARE DOWN HERE
MONDAYS amiright? You're weary after the weekend's excesses, just nurturing back those first few burgeoning molecules of serotonin to help you through the start of another week. What will the next seven days bring? What? Yet MORE unexpected extreme weather conditions added to the city’s already-crowded meteorological calendar?! Climate gods, you’re really spoiling us!
Last Monday, though, Up All Night dragged their creaking old bones down to the always-wonderful Capulet for a spot of Queer Bingo. What IS Queer Bingo and will I need a special outfit, I hear you say? I’m glad you asked, and the answer to the last part is very much up to you (you’re not going to be turned away or mocked however you rock up, there’s no strict feather boa policy but this IS New Orleans, so go hog wild if you’re feeling it).
There’s a five-pronged strategy of delight, operating in a pincer movement that makes it almost impossible not to have a fun start to the week. First of all, it’s bingo, and who doesn’t love bingo? SOCIOPATHS, that’s who.
Secondly, there’s multiple prizes on offer, from cocktails to food plates to bottles of wine (and Capulet’s A-grade menu means that these are all great wins for a FREE contest). The remaining triage of treats are all down the evening’s hostess, queen of the bingo balls Siren, who rules over the proceedings with a bawdy panache that is a singular delight. Resplendent in finery that frankly, Monday nights don’t really deserve, it’s almost like being at a free, one-queen show that incidentally has bingo going on.
Siren runs four or five games depending on time, with classic bingo, a four corner variation (four corners is unarguably the queerest way to win a bingo) and the infamous ‘tight rim’ of a whole square around the middle one - always labeled FREE (BRITNEY).
But hold onto your hats, dear reader, because the best is yet to come.
After every couple of rounds, Siren will break out from her throne and lip synch/dance for your pleasure, a soothing drag balm if you were just one square away before someone rudely announced their own completion. The music is excitingly esoteric, and we saw Siren spin and sashay to Macy Gray’s ‘I Try’ and Dolly P’s mistressful version of ‘Stairway to Heaven’. Meanwhile, the cards eschew simple numbers and instead go for topics that inspire casual therapy session chats with the audience, such as ‘A Delight to Have in Class’ and ‘Everyone Brought Hummus to the Potuck’.
We didn’t win, though we came close to the tight rim. But in a sense, given the game, prizes, funny chat, drag finery AND performance breaks, we really ALL won. (Bin)Go and support this lovely evening, or be forever an unmarked square.
Queer Bingo with Siren: Monday nights at Capulet from 7pm, no cover.
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PREVIEW: Bird Set Free
This Saturday (March 12th), there's a very special show taking place at The AllWays Lounge, supporting survivors of domestic abuse and the wonderful non-profit, STAR. We caught up with producer Dick Jones to find out more...
UP ALL NIGHT: What gave you the idea for the show?
DICK JONES: One of my biggest reasons for doing this show is to address the disconnect that many trauma survivors feel with their own bodies. So many people feel like their body isn't their own anymore. So this show is a way for survivors to actually engage with and use their bodies to tell their stories. While there are some opportunities to do something similar here in New Orleans, I hadn't seen a space specifically dedicated to that. As someone who has been doing a lot of trauma work lately, it felt important to me to provide that safe space.
UAN: What does the show's title mean?
DJ: It's actually the name of a song by Sia. Yep. I totally ripped that off. I think a lot of her music is very trauma informed and empowering. But more than that, it's about breaking out of the cage you've been in -- whether it's the literal cage of an abusive relationship or the mental cage of negative thought patterns. Sometimes it seems impossible to get the strength or the resources to move past those things, but once you do, it feels amazing. I want this show to be the literal embodiment of that feeling, if that makes sense.
UAN: Why did you choose STAR?
DJ: STAR is an organization so near and dear to my heart. I've probably been involved in raising a lot of funds for them over the years, but it wasn't until I actually needed to use their resources myself that I realized just how tireless their dedication is and how vital their services are. The lack of resources for survivors of sexual assault and intimate partner violence is stunning, and this organization really does it all in terms of providing people with the tools they need to navigate some of the worst moments of their lives.
UAN: Tell us about the acts and the kind of performances that audience members can expect. How did you find the cast? Has this been a different show in terms of the production process/curating the line up, etc?
DJ: This show will be a lot of movement! Like I said, we're all trying to reconnect with our bodies after having agency taken away, so it will be interesting to see what each performer brings. This show has definitely had its own particular logistics. Safety is always a top priority. Some people may fear that their abuser(s) will find out about the show, so we've gone to great lengths to make sure that doesn't happen. While we're mostly focusing on the joy of reclaiming your body and your spirit, we know that sometimes things still get a bit heavy. In case anyone needs a break, we also have two very amazing safety workers who will be available to both cast and audience in case someone gets triggered by any of the content. They know grounding exercises and relaxation techniques and are just generally warm, lovely, people you'd want around when you're having a bad day. I wish I could hire a safety worker to just follow me around every day.
UAN: What do you love about the AllWays Lounge as a venue?
DJ: The Allways is my home! I know many others in the performance community can say the same. Zalia truly goes out of her way to create a safe, loving space for entertainers to grow and flourish. I don't know where I'd be without her of the many incredible people I've met through working in this space.
UAN: What does Cabaret Unreal have planned for the future?
DJ: Cabaret Unreal is finally coming back after this LONG covid hiatus! While I'm sure I'll be doing things at The Allways here and there, our main home is Bar Redux. We'll be kicking off our quarterly show series this coming April 2 with "Take Off Your Pasties and Jacket: a Blink 182 Cabaret." Definitely a way different vibe, I know. But Cabaret Unreal has always been a place where I can let my idiosyncratic fantasies run wild. We've done everything from a Food Networked themed show to a show based on everyone's favorite episodes of "Are You Afraid of the Dark." There's a lot of millennial nostalgia, for sure.
Bird Set Free: A Cabaret For Survivors takes place at The AllWays Lounge on Saturday March 12th at 7pm. For more info, click here.
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UP ALL NIGHT
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