Seduction Sideshow wants you to think about sex; or, rather, reconsider what sexiness is. To that end, the devoted burlesque troupe finds and explores a theme for each of its major productions. Given the “sideshow” orientation, it seemed inevitable that they would eventually hit upon Brooklyn’s legendary, and famously seedy, Coney Island — in Seduction’s terminology, sometimes “Corney Island,” sometimes “Carney Island” — for an exploration of the freak show.
Is freakishness sexy? What is a freak, anyway? A mermaid? A coin-operated boy? A four-legged man? Siamese twins? A snake girl? A bearded woman? A monkey girl? A fire-breathing tattooed lady? All these and more were given the Seduction treatment — stripping, magic and a healthy dose of laughter — in the Sideshow’s latest one-time-only attraction, Corney Island Carnival Sideshow Extravaganza (the show was Saturday, March 20). Whether or not you were turned on was a private matter; sexiness, as always, remained in the eye and mind of the beholder.
First, Seduction set the atmosphere. Club 828 really did feel a bit like the Coney Island of old, what with the carnival-striped setting, performers wandering through the audience (some distributing condoms), a fortune teller, and — upstairs — a Museum of Oddities and Monstrosities (that, like Coney Island itself, delivered just a little less than promised).
Before the show proper, opening acts enticed: Keith Shubert put his Toy Box Theatre on display; and Britta Felter of Bootstraps Burlesque, with a hand from Walter Beals, did an engaging striptease as a mermaid. Tony Bravo emceed amusingly. Then it was time for Seduction Sideshow’s emcee, the expert, multitalented Sneaky McFly, to perform the opening bark with This Way to the Egress, a band from Pennsylvania with an appropriately raunchy sound.
In the first full act — one of the funnier, more arousing routines — Lucille Castille and Ms. Trixie, clad sexily in skimpy leather-and-mesh outfits, stumbled upon a “coin-operated” boy (Keith Shubert), and struggled with him, and each other, to “make a man out of him,” bringing new meaning to the term “hard wood.” McFly, assisted by the scimitar-wielding harem of (the singularly-named) Christy and Felter, appeared as the aforementioned four-legged man: a sheik shortly cut down to size. Chocolate Fetish and Devia Von Wolvenstein, in a backstage vignette, got stuck together, Siamese-style, while working at adjoining makeup tables, and could only free themselves, and their fantasies, by taking off their clothes. Bravo and Finna Gogo handled transitions between the acts, and McFly read, movingly, a poem by Isaac Watts, with which Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, often ended his letters:
’Tis true my form is something odd,
But blaming me is blaming God.
McFly opened the second act with Snake Girl, and then Bravo found himself aroused by Rainbow, who changed clothes, revealingly, behind a backlit screen. Castille appeared as Monkey Girl, complete with corkscrew tail, and engaged in aerial acrobatics. McFly performed his “Ode to Avner Eisenberg” (better known as Avner the Eccentric, a clown associated with the New Vaudeville movement of the 1980s), in which a lonely train conductor fumbles his cigarettes and his red clown nose (“wheeze”), and uses a coat to create someone to love, comfort and grope him. Gogo, as a tattooed lady, was laid on a bed of nails by McFly, and together they breathed fire. And, at last, Castille, Ms. Trixie, Devia, and Chocolate performed a “hoochie-coochie” dance.
All of this was moderately entertaining, and each of several strips elicited the usual hoots and hollers. If something felt off, it was: after six months of pulling together this large-scale enterprise, Seduction Sideshow lost a performer, due to family issues, just days before the big show. Gamely, Gogo, who was taking a break, filled in, but there was a rushed quality throughout the evening that played against true eroticism. There were also several “wardrobe malfunctions” (not of the type that reveals breasts, which were anyways prominently displayed): Castille had trouble with a wig, and McFly struggled with his wheeze, which made this rendition of the “Ode” less effective than it had been a couple of weeks earlier in Bootstrap Burlesque’s The Laudanum Express.
That’s part of the problem right now for burlesque companies in Asheville: no matter how hard they work on new material, they may only have one chance to get it right. Corney Island, though good, wasn’t as good as it should have been. But don’t count out Seduction Sideshow: these gifted, dedicated performers will likely double down next time. You won’t want to miss that.
Art direction and stage design: Ms. Kitty Love and Tom. Music: This Way to the Egress. Sound: Adam and Nick Napp. Lighting: Marston Blow and Erica. Museum of Oddities and Monstrosities coordinator: Morganna La Fatale. Roving Performers: Trevor (accordion); Nathaniel (museum curator), Keith Shubert (Toy Box Theater), Kenny the Clown. DJ: Jay. Cigarette Girl: Aubrey. With Lucille Keith Shubert, Britta Felter, Walter Beals, Tony Bravo, Sneaky McFly, Lucille Castille, Ms Trixie, Finna Gogo, Christy, Chocolate Fetish, Devia Von Wolvenstein, Snake Girl, Rainbow, Taylor the Bearded Lady, Milk Truck, and Mike.