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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