With just over a month to go before the December 21, 2012 apocalypse, there is but precious little time remaining to see Orgasmico Theatre Company’s "Doomsday Cabaret." Well, at least that’s what the doomers would have you think. In any case, whether you have spent the past few months stocking up your rapture-proof bunker, or if you’re more the type to roll your eyes at Mayan prophecy, "Doomsday Cabaret" is an enjoyable (and perhaps informative) way to spend an evening.
Our cast of characters are all "doomers" of one sort or another, convinced that the world is speeding towards a dismal end. For the Evangelical Dugans, the final moments are a horror of fire, brimstone and damnation -- and doomsday fever helps them peddle their books "unveiling" Revelation.
Gale Reed, a bespectacled tech-geek, on the other hand, subscribes to the "Web Bot" theory of technological domination. Deedra "Bee Girl" WitWit ("the only fucking scientist here") poses a hypothesis that, though perhaps more rooted in legitimate scientific inquiry, is no less an incitement for panic: signals from rampant cellphone use are disorienting bees, whose extinction will usher in our own demise.
The Mayan calendar, planetary alignment, Hopi prophecy, and I Ching also all make an appearance with their own devotees, as does a different sort of take on destruction: arson. Kurt Billie, the character version of the actual NoHo arsonist, arrives at the cabaret -- why not? -- with lighters in tow.
Though all of these characters might be representative of a kookier swath of society, Michael Shaw Fisher, writer of the book, lyrics, and music and playing the part of Cabaret MC Ed Suddick, recognizes their predicament as universal. In his characters, he sees the struggle to make real, intimate human connections; he sees their obsession with the end as a retreat from a humdrum life journey that has left them feeling alone.
Bee Girl is ungainly and embittered. Gale Reed asks what kind of a girl would spend all her time studying bees? Gerald Jerry Cox, expert in I Ching, is sweet and painfully shy, unable even to handle basic introductions. Lady Vavoom forges a hyper-sexual identity out of a painful, troubled childhood.
In short, these people are lonely and often on the margins of society. Don’t take that to mean, however, that "Doomsday" is a downer. Potentially sobering subjects like loneliness and despair are humorously expressed via such anthems as "What Kind of World Makes You Feel Like an Asshole." A host of crazy characters and an impressive, very funny musical score keep things upbeat.
This is by no means a perfect production, but there is a reason it’s back after a stint with the Hollywood Fringe Festival, a stint that resulted in the prize for Best Operas & Musicals. Sure, the play’s beginning was a bit slow off its feet and more than a little bit gimmicky (prepare for some minimal audience participation), and cordless mics and an improved sound system would do wonders for the level of professionalism (I was pleasantly surprised that no one tripped over what, by the performance’s end, was an entangled mass of cords in the middle of the small stage.)
There are also some logical inconsistencies in the writing of the play itself, and certain plot twists are clumsily executed. But...who cares? Any particular deficit is surmountable when a production is genuinely entertaining. With a winning combination of music, bawdy humor and compassionate treatment of quirky subjects, this production is genuinely entertaining.
Certainly, much of the credit for the performance’s success can be given to the impressive cast and band members. David Haverty as arsonist Kurt Billie gave a truly standout performance with spot-on comedic timing and incredible vocals; he was helped, too, by especially funny writing.
Deedra "Bee Girl" WitWit was wonderfully acted by Leigh Wulff, whose beautiful voice was able to cut through the occasional sound imbalance. Other particularly noteworthy performances were those of Nic Nassuet as Jerry and Sarah Chaney as Lorraine Dugan. All of the performers contributed much talent, as did the band.
In the playbill, a letter from writer/composer Michael Shaw Fisher articulates his desire to get a real sense of who his characters are, and in this he is largely successful. Likewise, he has accomplished the "cultish rock n’ roll symposium" he set out to create. And, quite ironically, his assertion as to why apocalyptic obsession will never come to an end also applies to the success of the production: "Doomsday sells." So, hurry! The end is near! Go buy your tickets before "Doomsday" sells out.