Low. Very low. The lowest of the low, as in burlesque. ABSINTHE in the Spiegeltent by The South Street Seaport evokes German cabaret of the 30’s & 40’s as though it were iPod music with an ear to the taste of today’s busy urban professionals.
As the lead singer, a cross dresser and female impersonator Paul Capsis says early in the show “Marlene let me be your personal iPhone.” Besides Miss Dietrich and Janis Joplin, he does a Judy Garland imitation in which he takes the hand of an audience member. The night I attended it just happened to be the gossip columnist Cindy Adams. He looked deeply into the octogenarian’s surgically enhanced eyes and remarked in a drunken haze, “Liza, it’s Mama. We look more and more alike every day.”
Here the cross dressing pairs off with sultry women whose acrobatic feats climax in stripping or lesbian lovemaking. One low note in the evening involves a scene between two hand puppets that swoon and croon as they engage in acts and descriptions better left behind bedroom doors. In contrast, one provocative scene that is both sensual and personally challenging involves two women acrobats whose amazing physiques tangle in mid air. Their movements are transfixing, their gestures erotic. Few scenes equal this one. Among them is a solo performed by an innocent looking young man who creates a state of inner grace as he swirls from hand stand to mid-air leg splits to a thinker’s pose. And there are a couple of other scenes, too. One with a fat Elvis impersonator and his girlfriend, both on roller skates performing daredevil feats that are actually dangerous.
But for the most part, this production is a collection of circus tricks and stage antics that are pretty ineffectual and frankly dull. A second cousin twice removed to CIRQUE DU SOLEIL, ABSINTHE carries neither the spectacle nor the underlying sense of irony that lifted those magnificent feats to otherworldly heights.
Of course, the goal here is strictly worldliness, the kind of pseudo-sophistication that allows the show’s MC, Mr. Gazillionaire to reference racism, homophobia, or any other subject that remains uncomfortable to audiences. But in the final analysis this is the stuff of Bar Mitzvah entertainment calling on us to join in the fun, even when we think we would rather stand alone.
By Isa Goldberg
“Absinthe” in the Spiegeltent north of Pier 17 at the South Street Seaport, Lower Manhattan; (212) 279-4200