Red Light ‘Twilight Zone’ Review

16 06 2011

While much of this blog focuses on deconstructing how we think about art and culture on a large scale and speaks in broad, general, societal terms, from time to time it will engage in the time-tested practice of art criticism.  I will periodically review art exhibitions, theatrical productions, concerts, albums, books, and all manner of cultural ephemera produced in my local vicinity, which is currently Boise, Idaho.  Boise has a few print-media cultural critics (Michael Deeds, Chris Schnoor and Josh Gross specifically) but considering the amount of activity in the area, these writers can hardly hope to cover even a minority of it.  Here, I am attempting to add one more credible voice to the mix.

Red Light Variety Show is a troupe of Boise performers identifying themselves as “vaudevillian, cabaret-like circus freaks.”  Their current production, “The Twilight Zone” ends its run at Visual Arts Collective this Saturday, June 18.  This show is decidedly darker than their previous efforts and ultimately pulls away from the lighthearted and bawdy innuendo one would expect.  The tone is apparent from the opening number, introducing all of the performers, silent, with identities concealed behind masks designed by James Sharp.  If you are even mildly leery of clowns, the posture and controlled movements on display in this introductory tableau will infect your nightmares for the foreseeable future.

This is not to say the show is completely terrifying.  Comic relief is dispensed by a hula-hooping dancer (if you’re the type who can find humor in spinal meningitis), and Red Light staples like pole-dancing and strip-teases maintain the troupe’s roots in burlesque.  Mind you, this is a dark burlesque.  The overall ominous quality of each performance often silences the usual yips, whistles, and hollers from the crowd.

“The Twilight Zone” is not really vaudeville at all, and while there are burlesque numbers, it is not really burlesque either.  It is a dance show.  There are no live-action, dialog-based skits, no actual singing by performers (except for one song, played and sung by a person in the shadows stage left–not a front-and-center performer), truly, no verbal communication with the audience.  The communication is visual, physical, and musical.  Whether you call it contemporary ballet, acro-yoga, hooping,  tight-rope walking, strip-tease, belly, or pole, it is dance.  And while it may not be vaudeville, that does not mean it is not beautiful.  In fact, in reaching beyond the requisite camp of its cabaret background, Red Light Variety Show is making something more than just a venue for the transgression of boundaries.

While there is a continuous thread of darkness throughout the show, Red Light’s “The Twilight Zone” is missing the mark of the theme suggested by its title.  The narration during the interludes, while metaphysical, lacks the punch of the Rod Serling original.  In the television show, the suspense and shock that were achieved relied on the audience relating to an otherwise normal character and how they responded when confronted with the unusual and bizarre.  William Shatner sees gremlins on the wing of a plane that no one else seems to notice.  Are they invisible?  Why is he the only one who can see them?  Is there a conspiracy afoot?  Has he gone mad?  In this production, the Red Light performers present us with a series of performances, disjointed and unconnected.  As an audience, we encounter the performers without mitigation of a consistent empathetic figure to act as a guide, so we are, collectively, the sole voyeur.  In this manner, seeing a woman bathing in blood or a strip-tease that reveals the teaser to be a bovine-human hybrid is not jarring or unnerving, but expected on our part as viewers of the cabaret freak-show.

This disconnect is broken with the final dance number, which offers the promise that a narrative thread could be woven throughout “The Twilight Zone” to provide it with a more personal and powerful impact.  The dancer creates empathy and thus a connection with the audience that is inevitably, heartbreakingly, and abruptly broken.  The show immediately transitions into its final tableau/curtain call, and the dancer, no longer able to function, is carried through her final bows and exeunt by her fellow performers.  It is this image that is the most lasting of the entire production, and it is a direct product of the audience’s continued relationship with a character from one phase of the show to another.

With “The Twilight Zone,” Red Light Variety Show is on the cusp of pushing its performances beyond the mere sensationalism and shock expected from cabaret.  The lighting, sound, and mask, makeup, and costume design deftly set the ominous tone in which the performers have the opportunity to affect the audience in a way that differs from conventional burlesque in Boise.  You do not want to miss this moment.  Witness it, and you’ll no doubt be in the audience for the next show to see how far they will push it.  I know I will.

The final performance of Red Light Variety Show presents “The Twilight Zone” will be Saturday, June 18th at Visual Arts Collective (3638 Osage, Garden City, Idaho).  Advance tickets are $10 and can be purchased online at brownpapertickets.com (http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/171646), or at Record Exchange.  Tickets will also be available for $12 at the door.  Visual Arts Collective is a 21 and over venue.  Sorry, minors!

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