Corsets. Garter belts. Bondage. Dirty jokes. Lace, frills and whips. A striptease or two. And, zombies?
That's how Laura Grant, Meg Hale and Chelsea Crispin of The Bombs Away Cabaret troupe described their upcoming production, Eat Your Heart Out: A Knockout Thriller.
It's a bit hard to imagine the above description while the group rehearses one very cold January night at a large, chilly house in Montford. Dressed in jeans, sweaters, gloves, scarves and warm hats, the women prepare for their performance in a room ample enough to be an actual stage. The aroma of Thai-food spices drift from the kitchen where company member Seana Steele shares the home with several other Asheville artists. All furniture has been pushed back to the walls and rehearsal begins.
The story revolves around Cabaret owner Miss Moxie (Grant) and her "lovelies." Moxie has just recently survived a foreclosure and has invited a talent judge from a Hollywood reality show in hopes of attracting new audiences and investors to the cabaret. But will Moxie be able to impress this diva judge despite her small-town cabaret, her unenthused performers (a greedy Southern belle, a bitter mail-order Russian bride and a very confused fundamentalist Mormon) and a local zombie outbreak?
But there's more to this show than just pretty girls wearing skimpy costumes. The original production features local performers, a satirical plot with live music and sideshow vignettes including song, dance, magic and burlesque.
"Our show is more than just 'boobies and stripping,'" says Hale. (Hale and Grant co-wrote the script.) "Yes, we do have some strip tease, but we also have a plot-driven script, and some of the content is very political. The script is original and comedic. A lot of the musical numbers were also written by members of the group. We even have a belly dancer and a few guys in the show. We are really trying to get back to the roots of Burlesque."
There's also the philanthropic goal of giving all proceeds from the show to Jo Carson, a Johnson City playwright who once taught Grant at East Tennessee State University and is now struggling to survive colon cancer.
Carson writes plays, short stories, essays and poems. She has been an occasional commentator on National Public Radio's All Things Considered for five years, and won awards in 1984 from the Center for Appalachian Studies and Services and in 1986 from the Kentucky Foundation for Women. Her script Daytrips received the 1989 Kesselering Award for Best New American Play. She's also won an AT&T Onstage Award, a Roger L. Stevens Award from the Fund for New American Plays in 1993 and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship.
"Jo is just this amazing person and creative advisor," Grant says. "She teaches you to just 'play' when you write, to just play with your characters and then edit later.
"We'd like to be able to give Jo $5,000 to help her pay her mortgage, some hospital bills, whatever," Grant says. That's not an unreasonable goal considering the troupe raised $2,200 for Mission Hospital's Breast Program with their last show, Risqué Business: A Burlesque Comedy Extravaganza.
How does Carson feel about her former student wanting to help her out?
"I find Laura (Grant) truly inventive and talented and mightily ironic and funny … and the Bombs Away Cabaret is a really good vehicle for such a talent," Carson says by email. Her health is currently alright, she writes, but she's been financially crippled by more than $100,000 in medical bills, despite having some insurance.
"I could be the poster child — except I'm a little long in the tooth for the job — for health-care legislation," Carson writes. "The notion that someone finds my being on this earth valuable enough to help pay for medical expenses is, to say the least, humbling, and I am honored."
[Tracy D. Hyorth can be reached at email@example.com]
who: Bombs Away Cabaret
what: Eat Your Heart Out: A Knockout Thriller
where: Asheville Arts Center, 308 Merrimon Ave.
when: Fridays and Saturdays, Feb. 12 and 13 and 19 and 20 (8 p.m. $12. www.ashevilleartscenter.com)