LATE on a recent Saturday night in Vauxhall, South London?s trendy
gay area, a midget-size platinum blonde named Miss Cherry Ripe was
performing a striptease to popular acclaim. The act was part of a
weekly floor show at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, produced by performance
artists known collectively as Duckie, which has acquired a devoted and
diverse local following.
This week Duckie ? a loosely
affiliated group of burlesque dancers, singers and entertainers who
call themselves ?postgay? ? arrives in New York with a far more lavish
affair called ?C?est Duckie!,? performing from Thursday through Jan. 19
at the C.S.V. Cultural Center on the Lower East Side. ?One of our
gimmicks is turning nightclubs into theaters and theaters into
nightclubs,? said Simon Casson, the group?s producer and raffish
?C?est Duckie!? reflects a French influence, he
said, in keeping with the troupe?s aspirations for a more stylish
showcase than the ?genuine seediness? of their Vauxhall club.
took everyone to the Moulin Rouge in Paris,? Mr. Casson said. ?And then
I said, ?Let?s make our own South London version, with dancing girls
and singing, but with a postmodern kind of edge to it.? So this is what
they came up with.?
Patrons in New York will be asked to
observe a dress code of ?swanky evening attire.? The audience, capped
at around 100 people a night, sits at 10 tables. Each table gets 50
printed Duckie dollars (at a dollar for Duckie-dollar rate). As
Champagne begins to flow, guests receive menus listing available acts
and their Duckie dollar prices. Together customers choose ? and pay for
? a few sideshows to supplement the three big song-and-dance numbers on
the stage, which are included in the price of admission.
range from ventriloquism and neo-vaudeville to the category-defying. In
the spirit of giving people what they really want, Duckie?s menu
primarily consists of acts that are sexually explicit, proudly
exploitative or openly offensive, most of them unprintable here.
Mentionable offerings from an early London incarnation included ?An
Emotional Striptease,? ?Stilettos of Death? and ?Slo-Mo Supermarket
For audience members preferring tamer acts, Mr. Casson
recommended ?Be Insulted? because customers ?get blindfolded and called
all the names under the sun.? In New York other options might include
?Japanese Housewife? (?She?s on drugs, and she?s obsessed with cleaning
and likes Gucci?) or an elaborate James Bond scenario involving George W. Bush; Tony Blair; Diana, princess of Wales; Elton John; and a ring of ?perverts.?
on the evening, Duckie?s menu may also feature a ?special of the day?:
local nightclub performers in cameo appearances. Duckie regulars
include Marisa Carnesky, Joshua Sofaer, Kazuko Hohki and Miss High Leg
About halfway through the evening the buying and selling of
performances spirals into consumer frenzy, and things begin to
disintegrate, changing the audience-performer dynamic.
?it?s not like there?s a start to the show and an end to the show,? Mr.
Casson said. ?It?s all the show. It?s not a cabaret. It uses cabaret,
but actually it?s a conceptual theater show.?
specializes in satiric swipes, said Vallejo Gantner, artistic director
of Performance Space 122, which is presenting the monthlong run with a
commercial co-producer, Foster Entertainment. ?It?s all about Broadway.
It?s all about commercial theater. Merchandising. And it?s about kind
of crazy sex.?
Duckie received a 2004 Olivier Award for the show
when it played at the mainstream Barbican Center in London under the
title ?C?est Barbican!,? earning accolades even from staid observers.
(Sarah Hemming of The Financial Times called it ?deliciously camp and
wonderfully inventive.?) But Mr. Gantner does not see anything safe
about the production. ?It absolutely goes and attacks everything and
everyone and itself,? he said.
Supported by grants from the
British Council and Arts Council England, ?C?est Duckie!? has also
played in Berlin and Tokyo, as well as the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the Sydney Opera House.
of the appeal for the New York producers was the opportunity to do
something big and splashy in a location away from P.S. 122?s aging East
Village building. ?C?est Duckie!? will be mounted at the Clemente Soto
Vélez Cultural Center, known by its C.S.V. initials, at Suffolk and
?They want a run-down, faded old kind of
room that feels like a nightclub that?s been kicked to death,? Mr.
Gantner said. ?It?s already an area where we?re all expecting to go out
and have a beer.? The site will be transformed by the artists?
simulation of glamour. ?Red curtain, red velvet, plush chairs, tables,
barmen ? it?s going to be fabulous,? he said.
Mr. Gantner, who
last year opened the popular Spiegeltent, an Old World beer garden and
performance space near South Street Seaport, in a venture independent
of P.S. 122, said he hopes ?C?est Duckie!? will be another project
reinvigorating New York theater with variety and atmosphere.
need to start finding work that has rigor and integrity ? or a total
lack of it, like this ? that takes theater out of black boxes because
they?re killing everybody,? he said. ?It?s killing the vibe, making it
a totally predetermined, predictable 90-minute experience. That is not
actually, I think, what people want.?
Mr. Casson characterizes
the show as ?a cynical Christmas crowd pleaser and a triumph of table
dancing over bourgeois theater.? Despite an emphatically sentimental
seasonal song tacked on to the finale, Duckie?s critique of capitalism
through erotic antics is definitely geared toward grown-ups seeking
relief from family holiday fare.
?It?s all about putting out and
being a tart in the most charming way you can,? Mr. Casson said. ?It?s
about making money and having fun, and that?s what New York is about,
The company?s shows ?are about playing with the
fiction of real life,? he said. ?The fiction is ?We?re all at the
Moulin Rouge.? Only it?s a little bit artier than the Moulin Rouge. And