CorrectiveFor their fifth show, Cabaret, the student music and drama extravaganza, contracts their cast and expands their focus. If the hooting of a generous opening night audience is anything to judge by, this is well-recieved entertainment for the Swarthmore community.Aside from some gender/ed fumblings dialog, and a scorching exhortation finale, this Cabaret does not turn their typical mirror at the navel of Swarthmore; rather, they run their combined satirical impulses over a broader range of human/mammalian/vegetable relations.
This year this un-chartered student group made a conscious effort to achieve an ensemble format; members of previous Cabarets were asked to leave in favor of a self-identified core of writer/director/actors. The resulting show reflects both the joys and sorrows of this enfolding; regardless, over 100 smoking and drinking students and faculty packed in for two and a half hours of skits and songs this Wensday, and seemed to thoroughly enjoy the fare.
While occasionally a problem with past Cabarets, the show seldom drags; it is propelled straight through with extreme verve by the frenetic, tightly wound cast of six. No one would accuse these actors of a lack of energy: their eyeballs nearly fly from their skulls in multiple skits; most scenes wind to a fever pitch of foaming-at-the-mouth fervour.
The humour this time stems from witty writing and good timing, less from Swarthmore-specific inside jokes. In previous shows Cabaret has helpfully hoisted Swarthmore on their own particularly sharp and profane petard. This show boasts no such distinctive characters as the "Swat gangsta" ("from the rugged lands of Manayunk, yo") or "the fashion police." This time a few scenes observe sexual malaise with acutely sharp staged dialogue between women and men (or Anna Fricke and Emily Salzfass in particular) that mirrors relationship conversation of this particular age, regardless of setting. In these scenes their talent for scripted conversation shines.
Other scenes lambaste British murder mystery, the Houdini myth, and camping.
Some of these have moments of easy humour; accented ethnic caricatures (admittedly well executed, particularly by John Kozinski and Wilson Kello), vegetable-sex, masculine might (Simon Harding, "if he dies i'll fuck you extra hard tonight" whew!); but each boasts the inimitable Cabaret stage velocity. Still, they exercise admirable restraint: after most skits I am left marvelling-- Cabaret is to be praised for good endings; each of their scenes leaves you with something to savour. Often sketches of this sort, short comedic skits, disintegrate into absurdity and lose their flow. While numerous scenes here fall back on death as a terminus, the death comes after fantastic lines. When Mike Zadara finally collapses from wandering in the desert, his death is to be celebrated; both for the quality of his solliloquy, and his bug-eyed frothing finally ended.
Their acting imparts the words with the appropriate slack or urgency. These actors have a good relationship with their words; the dialogue scenes seem perfectly scripted yet casually spoken; the bizarrely set scenes are well articulated.
The writing is at times fantastic. One scene where Wilson Kello assails members of the audience unwilling to admit their craving for sweets escalates into a frenzy of unevenly-metered rhymes correlating confections and erections. After this torrent of brilliant verbiage, there is nothing left to do when the lights go down but hold yer belly and holler.
And listen to fine music! The jazz band plays a sophisticated sound. The Thelonious Monk theme of the first evening was gladly accepted and well executed. The serious jazz, with the masquerading transsexual waitrons, Peter Vella’s Delicious Red wine, and Old Milwaukee Ice beer add a touch of class to Olde Clubbe.
In the end, Cabaret moves to prove they are still subversive. Anna Fricke delivers a searing Swarthmore "end of the world" apocalpyse solliloquy, invoking sex death cops and art charging a passive campus to take action. Once again, Cabaret lulls the audience into a humoured stupor, only to swing them in the final scene into strange seriousness. This beatniky buddhistic incitement to life and art seems out of place only because of its direct tone. When the issue was rape, as in a previous Cabaret, the direct heaviness could be more easily justified - here they might have lightened their hand. But it sure is sweeping.
Conversation with the audience afterwards reflects mostly a desire for more (assumedly lighthearted) Swarthmore-specific content, for which Cabaret has a well-deserved reputation. Taking on the BBC requires a different set of expectations; at least this time, Cabaret has an alcohol permit.
(Cabaret plays at Olde Clubbe November 7 and 8 at 8pm. You must be over the age of 21 to consume alcohol in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania).
This appeared in the Phoenix