Company XIV's last show, The Judgment of Paris, may have set a war to the can-can, but it's their latest production, Le Serpent Rouge!, that hammers home the Moulin Rouge aesthetic. Sure, both shows put a decayed decadence behind the chintzy cheer, from the burlesqued costumes to the vinyl crackle of classic soundtracks (Eartha Kitt to James Brown). And Austin McCormick's expert choreography remains a slow, languorous seduction, enhanced by the obvious chemistry between his tight-knit Company XIV. (For what it's worth, they're also both about magic apples.) But the specificity of this retelling of the Adam and Eve story (with a primer on the seven deadly sins thrown in for good measure) puts more emphasis on solos and duets, evoking far more than just "titillating tragedy." (Last year, it was "dramatic entertainment.")
You wouldn't think so at first: Zane Pihlstrom's set is a gilded iron circus ring, with a giant chandelier in the center, and two trapeze-like swings on either side. Gina Scherr largely avoids overhead lights in favor of footlights and a wheeled-on spotlight, which creates a lovely silhouette. And Olivera Gajic's costuming leaves no doubt that the apple-wielding narrator is a Ringmistress (Gioia Marchese), from her tiny top hat and giant whip to the thrust of her bust. Davon Rainey's back in drag, too, serving up both an all-frills palate cleanser and chilling denouement with Peggy Lee's "Is That All There Is." But these effects are just the comfort zone--a familiar atmosphere for Company XIV--which is why they're able to dig deeper into an all-too-familiar tale.
As she did as Helen last year, Laura Careless embodies the essence of Woman in the role of Eve, brought to the garden by the Ringmistress, and made to serve Adam (John Beasant III). However, she slowly comes to terms with her own body, losing the false smile she's forced to wear when seeing Adam and Lillith (Yeva Glover), and it's only a matter of time before she's trying to define herself on her own terms. A giant gilded mirror, a fancy ball gown, and the timeless Eve now confronts Vanity. As Adam joins her in a contemporary setting, their curtained silhouettes succumb to Greed; helpless once more, they are stripped by Sloth.
"Good weather," says the Ringmistress, "is like a good woman. It doesn't always happen." Vilified forever by the burden of one bite of an apple, knowledge can be a curse--or so says the plot. It's an interesting thought, but Le Serpent Rogue! focuses more--wisely--on the images, heating up from a chair-dance of Jealousy to a fiery duet of Wrath before smoothly rolling into a three-way moment of Lust. Even the cryptic moments of sad loss that follow the Fall are terrifically sexy: the visceral act of Adam walking over Eve, the symbolism of Eve slipping through a watery mist onto the plane of that giant mirror, the far-away sight (through a door at the back of the stage) of Eve in the dressing room with the Ringmistress, staring at that apple.
It's a sort of epic burlesque, except that McCormick and Company XIV are in the habit of stripping away the glamor--ironically, using glamor itself to get back to the humanity of these ancient tales. This apple bites back, and the taste of Le Serpent Rouge! lingers on.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009