The Mountain at Mt. Vernon Place United Methodist Church
Remaining performances: July 11 at 8 p.m.; July 16 at 6 p.m.; July 17 at 8 p.m.; Jul 25 at 4 p.m.
They say: “Classy acts! Captivating Characters! Hosted by Guitar Prodigy Scooter Undercroft, Featuring Izzy and Diz Aster Singing Cheery Songs of the Great Depression, Nicolo the Juggling Accordionist, the Amazing Illusionist Catastrafi, Hotsy-Totsy Dancing Cigarette Girls, the Melodious Pit band, and surprise(d) guests!”
Ted’s take: More clowning reality-reprieve from the resident masters of vintage slapstick.
This year, M.C. Scooter Undercroft welcomes you to the Cabaret CooCoo, which—-as the project’s name and pedigree surely attest—-is an utterly bonkers evening’s worth of dysfunctional, downmarket cabaret, magical malaprop, and period pasticherie set to a very fetching incidental soundtrack courtesy of accordions, ukuleles, and at least one harmonic saw. The “Hotsy Totsy Dancing Girls” (pronounced “goils”) are also present, but the Flying Zamboni Brothers are not—-which sends Scooter AWOL and leaves the rest of the cast scrambling in the service of a show-within-a-show that…well, must go on.
Happenstance, here, is playing to its strengths—-vaudevillian funny business isn’t exactly an artistic leap for a group that, as far as Cap Fringe is concerned, has practically cornered the market on the stuff. Which is not to say the performances aren’t versatile: This is an extended family of gifted physical comics, and whether dancing, singing, miming, preaching, mumbling, or staring vacantly at the audience, they execute with equal aplomb. Anchored by the dual charisma of Mark Jaster and Sabrina Mandell—-here, Izzy and Diz Aster, respectively—-Happenstance mines the physical idioms of Marceau, Chaplin, and Harpo Marx to produce a show about how art—-even and especially disastrous (make that Diz Aster-ous), wildly loopy, fourth-wall-busting art—-offers its audience a reprieve from the economic doldrums.
That the latter is the full extent of the concept makes Cabaret CooCoo a slender thing—-Jaster, Mandell, et al. are applying their virtuosity to a project so light it’s almost airborne. Last year’s Manifesto! demonstrated that Happenstance is best when retrofitting its elegant mummery onto haut concepts—-or whittling those concepts down to more clownlike proportions, as the case may be. In comparison, Cabaret comes off a bit like “Her Majesty”after the dizzying suite on the second side of Abbey Road: Charming, but with the whiff of an afterthought.
Or perhaps it’s better to consider that very lightness a sort of guiding motif: as Jaster demonstrates in his moving, gradually hilarious evocation of the Gershwins’ “Summertime” on the musical saw, dysfunction, and the comedy of the Little Man, can evince pathos and hilarity out of all proportion with the work. “In tenui labor; at tenuis non gloria,” as the old fella once said: The work is in miniature; not so the fame.
See it if: You’ve a yen for an artistically satisfying variety-show send-up…or you feel that after seeing a particularly gruesome Lear down the street, you deserve a good belly-laugh or two.
Skip it if: Your appreciation of the whole vaudeville schtick begins and ends with Lili von Schtupp.