This Is the Way the World Ends?

John Kander and Fred Ebb’s Cabaret is set inside a seedy Berlin bar, the Kit Kat Klub, where, for a while, “Life is beautiful.”  It is a place where you can “Leave your troubles outside,” but the rise of the Nazi party interrupts this paradise and eventually seeps its way into the Klub, particularly in a memorable moment when the emcee, dancing with a girl in a gorilla costume, concludes his pleading love song, “If You Could See Her,” by hissing to his audience, “If you could see her through my eyes, she wouldn’t look Jewish at all.”

The Apocalyptic Road Show with Your Hosts Gdjet and Lulu, the latest installment of the Ice Factory Festival, takes Cabaret to its literal conclusion—as the world falls apart outside, these two, in full post-apocalypse getup, usher in the Armageddon with a series of sketches and devil-may-care songs.  Meanwhile, we sit around tables in the audience, an open bar to the left of the stage.  The opening number, “Glory, Glory,” sets the tone with its refrain, “Come on in and put your happy face on / We’re all gonna die.”  But the happy faces slowly fade when Gdjet (Catherine Gillard) and Lulu (Nancy Walsh) are interviewed by either God or a representative of God who is reviewing their applications to heaven.  Though both consider themselves relatively good people—they march against wars, sign petitions, and give to charity most years—more piercing questions reveal their liberalism to be of the armchair variety, nothing more than vague progressive principles backed up by general indifference to suffering in the world.  When confronted with the fact that little Asian children sew in factories for eighteen hours a day to produce her clothing, Gdjet replies helplessly, “It’s just, I love to shop.”

It’s a good setup, so it’s a shame that playwright John Clancy doesn’t push the premise as far as it deserves.  There’s no bite to his writing—we all know that we live hypocritical lives, that we blind ourselves every day in order to enjoy coffee and cars and other indulgences we don’t really need.  We could easily give more away, make more sacrifices, but we don’t because it’s more comfortable this way.  These are the realizations of an intelligent eighth grade boy, not an adult who is re-examining his life in the face of the end of the world.  There are some moments that have potential; for example, when Gdjet and Lulu imagine heaven—“No bastards, no poor people, everyone’s white and fit, no cripples … Muslims, Jews, Catholics and Hindus, Sikhs, atheists, Buddhists, Rastafarians, Scientologists, Seventh Day Adventists and Mormons, all going to hell”—but there is not enough time spent on it; the supremacist attitudes are abandoned as soon as they are mentioned, as if just telling us we are all racist and uneasy around the handicapped is scathing enough, as if it is all we can handle.  It’s just a little glib.

Ms. Gillard and Ms. Walsh, too, are not entirely comfortable with the text.  Mr. Clancy’s script requires rat-a-tat back and forth, a clipped repartee that fails when the two hesitate to remember their lines.  Ms. Walsh, who is the better actor of the two, flubs too often and continually interrupts the momentum of the play.  This feeling that everything is underrehearsed only contributes to the similar feeling that everything is underwritten.  There is a good play in here, somewhere, but everyone involved needs to sit down and spend more time with the script.

The Apocalyptic Road Show with Your Hosts Gdjet and Lulu runs through July 28th at the New Ohio Theatre as part of the Ice Factory Festival.  154 Christopher Street  New York, NY.

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