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Daily Cal, Monday, December 5, 2005


Fast Times in the Weimar Republic
‘Cabaret’ Showcases Sexuality, Wieners Under The Weimar Republic in 1930s Red Light Berlin

-- BY Robert Bergin


The seats at the Ashby Stage have the look and feel of church pews: Hard wooden backs, modest cushions and certainly no armrests to save patrons from having to rub shoulders with one another. It's a wonderfully appropriate seating arrangement for "Cabaret," a show that celebrates the church of hedonism that was 1930's Berlin.

If Berlin is a materialist's Mecca, then the Kit Kat Klub is undoubtedly the Ka'bah. Set designer Heather Basarab has done a wonderful job of recreating the club's classy decadence, dressing the stage in drippy chandeliers, spiral staircases and a giant blue and gold keyhole-shaped entrance to the stage.

That keyhole is such a great stylistic choice because at its core, "Cabaret" is a voyeuristic exercise in spectacle. True to the boldness they are known for, the Shotgun Players have created a strikingly beautiful, writhing and throbbing redlight district for the peering audience.

As fantastic as the set is, what really makes this production sizzle is its strong cast. In particular, Mary Gibboney and Joe Roebuck turn in adorably endearing performances as Fraulein Schneider and Schultz, respectively, an elderly couple with a budding relationship that gets complicated by Schultz's Jewish background.

Though certain compelling subplots raise interesting ethical questions, it's nothing new to anyone even vaguely familiar with Lost Generation literature. For example, at one point, the main protagonist and aspiring American writer Clifford Bradshaw (Cassidy Brown) relates a dream he had, saying "It was the end of the world and I was dancing with Sally Bowles. And we were both asleep." I'm pretty sure some form of this line has been used in "The Great Gatsby," "The Sun Also Rises," and "Bright Young Things".

This is all pretty meager criticism, though, for a show that's at its best when it's embracing Berlin's Girl Kulture rather than criticizing it, though the inevitable second act critique of excessive self-indulgence is certainly necessary. Clive Worsley is masterful as the EmCee, a fiery little bald man who's all limbs and passion. Kimberly Dooley is likewise fantastic as the aforementioned eccentric epicure Sally Bowles.

Though the play has long been thought of as a chick show, "Cabaret" actually has everything a guy could ask for in a musical. Sexy girl scouts? Check. Dancing gorilla? Check. A flying pineapple? Oh, hell yes. And of course, this being "Cabaret", there's certainly no dearth of bared breasts. At one point two sailors even mime fellatio. And really, what dude doesn't love watching sailors get blowjobs? Guys? Guys?

The show's supersaturated sexuality does lead to some questionable directorial choices, though. It was never really clear to me why the EmCee rams a telescope up his own ass and has the cast line up to take a peek, but whatever, the audience laughs. Also, the EmCee later seduces a little boy in a strangely out of the blue sequence that seemingly exists only to reinforce the sexual perversity of the Weimar Republic. Just in case the telescope didn't make it clear.

Also, whose idea was it to have Act One end with a Nazi trying to lead the audience in a sing-along rendition of "Tommorow Belongs to Me?" Crowd participation is great and all, but being asked to sing a song that implicitly glorifies the rise of the Third Reich is awkward.

But really, all these are minor quibbles for an otherwise wildly entertaining show. As the play begins, the EmCee implores the audience to "Leave your troubles outside!" and, true to form, the Shotgun Players deliver the goods. "Cabaret" is a triumph in intelligent escapism, and it is also local theatre at its best.

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