We do not go in for burlesque much in Washington, but to our northern neighbors in Charm City, it is a big deal. Burlesque is so much in the fiber of Baltimore that its chief sage and poet, the great H.L. Mencken, invented a term to describe the art: ecdysiast, meaning “an artist who, while dancing, takes off her clothes, for cash money.” So it should not be a surprise that for a show featuring ecdysiasts, the performers should be from Baltimore, here to take D.C. money.
Thus in Cupcake Cabaret, the ecdysiasts – two attractive young women, Lola Rose and Patty Cake (not their real names), and a third attractive person, Cwen L’Queer, who, by the program appears to be keeping the gender options open, ply their trade.
They do so within the following frame: Sherry Somebody (Julie Chapin) has on her fiftieth birthday discovered that her husband has been sleeping with other women basically since they were married. Sherry’s friend Delaina Duboix (Belinda Fadlelmola) has taken her to an ecdysiasts’ palace, trying to get her to think of herself, for once.
Each of the ecdysiasts, having heard of Sherry’s plight, compares her dilemma to that of some famous fellow ecdysiast (such as Gypsy Rose Lee or Josephine Baker – among the “bad women” of the play.) Then, in turn, they perform a dance to some prerecorded tune, by Madonna or whatnot, which ultimately ends with them revealed in underpants and tasseled pasties. We hoot and holler during this display, as they did in days of old (and as the program instructs us to), and thus experience what Mencken did, and also our grandfathers.
This is what ecdysiasts do: they dance. They don’t act (Ms. Rose is a decent storyteller). Neither, regrettably, do the actors engaged for that purpose, although I should note that even Holly Twyford would have had a hard time making the lame dialogue plausible.
Eventually everything comes to a conclusion. I will not tell you what it is, but you won’t be shocked.
As ecdysiasts are part of American culture, it is your patriotic duty to see some at one point in your life, and the three who present themselves here are a pretty good sample of the species. But no one is obliged to witness ham-handed writing and bad acting.
Cupcake Cabaret has 5 shows, ending July 29, 2012 at The Shop at Fort Fringe, 607 New York Ave NW, Washington, DC.
Details and tickets
Tim rates this 2 out of a possible 5.