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Atlas Performing Arts Center: Sprenger (Tickets available here)
Sunday, July 12 at 12 p.m. Saturday, July 18 at 2:45 p.m. Wednesday, July 22 at 9 p.m. Saturday, July 25 at 9:45 p.m.
Darcy’s family’s burlesque palace is on the verge of bankruptcy. But as she grapples with old friends with their own problems, a boundary-pushing new lover and a mother struggling to make her proud, will Darcy find what she’s looking for?
Burlesque has long been a mainstay at Fringe, a natural fit for a festival that prizes exhibitionism and celebrates niche, probably dying (sorry!) forms of entertainment as though they never went anywhere. The Last Burlesque is yet another reminder that Pinky Swear Productions is one of the most exciting local theater groups working today. The genius in this performance is how the drama can both celebrate this exhibitionist art form and acknowledge its tenuous, often uncomfortable relationship with the mainstream, particularly the more clam-shelled among us (ahem).
The excellent Katrina Clark bridges those two worlds as Darcy, a performance-phobic college professor who was raised by burlesque performers. She returns to Val & Vera’s Valley of Burlesque, Sideshow, and Assorted Mischiefs, the family business, to find it on the verge of bankruptcy (that the house of ribaldry makes its home in D.C. seems to be its own wink at the entire Fringe enterprise). The prodigal daughter has great sympathy but little intellectual respect for the performing styles of her stage family: the stripteases, the straightjacket escapes, the nails-through-the-nose.
But you know who does respect those things? Playwright Stephen Spotswood and director Amber Jackson, who keep finding ingenious ways to let us have our risqué-sideshow cake and eat it, too. We get the full monty of the acts themselves, frequently foregrounded while backstage drama unfolds simultaneously, or while Darcy debates the psychological implications of the medium with her new lover May (Emma Hebert), a body suspension performer. It’s enlightening without being didactic, and titillating without… actually, it’s just titillating, and proudly so. Lots of people are getting naked. I’ve never before seen so many tassels in a show.
Clark anchors the enterprise with her unsteadiness, her vulnerability that instantly draws us in. (Darcy likes magic because you get to hide your cards from the audience—one of the show’s many clever characterizations.) She’s backed by a standout cast, including Vanessa Bradchulis as the vampy Vera, and a very funny Frank Britton as jokester emcee King.
At once a eulogy and a love affair, The Last Burlesque is everything a Fringe show should be, and more (and less, too, if you catch my drift). Plus, with an upcoming run at the Trinidad Theater, it also won’t be the last burlesque.
See it if: You love bawdy humor with the right amount of pathos.
Skip it if: You’re a total prude.
Photo courtesy of Paul Gillis Photography