Deep in the bowels of the earth, unnoticed by most yet just beneath the feet of people visiting Dupont Circle, and less than a mile from the White House, lurks the Dupont Underground. Once a defunct series of streetcar tunnels and entrances, the enormous space is finding new life as a unique arts and multidisciplinary center.
Descend into it and you’ll find TBD (Tradition Be Damned) Immersive, a group of artists and collaborators who strive to blur the lines between audience and performers with its immersive theatrical experiences. Cabaret Rising: One Nation Undergroud follows their acclaimed In Cabaret We Trust.
Entering on timed tickets, you are first ushered into a small space where an actor in a fabulous purple leather coat welcomes you to the Revolution, and gives you a short background of the ‘play’. Surrounding you are denizens of the Underground: ghosts, wraiths, homeless veterans of the Uprising- some of the characters are a bit unclear, but that’s part of the fun initially.
Moving past the entrance, some of us were chosen to take a short ‘bus’ ride- surrounded by said wraiths drumming on the walls, and inhabited by a crazed conductor, a promise of an unsettling and nicely goosepimply beginning to the evening.
There are delights along the way to the Cabaret- most notably some very accomplished pole dancers and physical circus acts, but we were rushed past these a bit perfunctorily to make room for the next timed entrants.
There is a Market of sorts- slightly akin to the Goblin Market of the Hellboy films- but, pretty though it is with all the fairy lights on the small booths, it’s unclear whether any of the pink wigs and late 90s technology are actually for sale.
Echoing Star Wars, the Second World War, with more than a smidge of modern-day politics, the semi-linear storyline introduces us to The Revolution, the Family, and the Underground where its members have retreated. The cabaret circles around everything but seems to have little to do with the more serious aspects of the resistance-against-a-totalitarian-regime background. Frankly, it’s all a bit muzzy, with performers singling you out to tell you tantalizing tidbits of other characters and plots, but after awhile, I found myself feeling less involved plotwise.
Mardi Gras beads and fetishwear abound: if there’s a rubber jumpsuit still for sale within a mile of the place I’d be dumbfounded. But off-the-rack black leather and studs, combined with painted tower pallets and a couple of lightshows, don’t make enough of a visual statement. Instead of feeling that you’ve been transported to a dystopian world underground, it feels more like a 1960s Happening- not really designed per se, just thrown together in a few days with the help of volunteers.
That would be enough- just having fun acts and a bar, for an enjoyable evening when you are in such a unique space. I enjoyed myself immensely. It’s just that it could be improved.
Cabaret Rising: One Nation Underground
closes March 4, 2018
Details and tickets
For one thing, there is far too long a wait for the actual cabaret to begin- once we were ushered into the large performance space, we waited for over twenty minutes. That’s a long time to sit in a freezing cold space, waiting for something to happen can really evaporate the mood TBD is trying to create. Even if you had the foresight to bring a warm winter coat and buy a merlot at the bar.
It’s an example of poorly thought out crowd control- it’s nearly impossible to wait for everyone in the space to congregate in one place. And given the staggered entrance times, it seems counter-intuitive to do so anyway. Shorter segments of cabaret, staggered so that audiences can come and go as they wish, would certainly have served better and avoided the many bottlenecks of the evening.
The cabaret itself is a good chance to see some of the area’s better street performers and variety acts. Those acts will vary during the run, but on opening night, that included a grand burlesque stripper who goes by Bear Cat Betty, a talented rapper, Chaseedaw Giles, and Mab Just Mab, who performed a steampunk/puppet/stripper act that had us in stitches. For those purists who draw a hard line between Cabaret and Burlesque, well, that line gets blurred quite a bit with TBD, though I wager the hardliners would enjoy themselves nevertheless.
So – a good evening out and a promising start for the union of TBD and the Dupont Underground.
Cabaret Rising: One Nation Underground . Producing Artistic Director, Strother Gaines; Improv Director: Dana Malone; Story Director, Jenny Splitter; Choreographer, Kathy Gordon; Variety Ent. Coordinator, Alex Doll, Atomic Doll Prods; Graphic Novel Scripting and Creative Consultant, Jessica Bylander . Design and Technical Team: Environment Designer, Will Lowry; Technical Director, Justin Hicks, Incite Colorado; Costume Design, Deborah Lash; Makeup Designer, Joy Johnson; Props Design/Construction, Colleen Parker; Stage/House Manager, Rachel Pendergrass; Cabaret Stage Manager, Ali Cheff; Sound, DJ Mirisola; Assoc Designer, Raymond Simeon . Core Cast: Eric Acuna, Alexander Burnett, Emily Collins, Catherine Deadman, Michael Dillhunt, Chaseedaw Giles, Marissa Goodstone; Molly Graham,D. Scott Graham, Amanda Haddock, Cate Minichino, Molly Murchie, Dakota Schuck, Leslie Olabisi . Fabric Cast: Diana Arnold, Melanie Boyer, Ali Cheff, Emily H Gilson, Kazi Jones, Kaitlin Kemp, Beth Lyons, Rachel Messbauer, Colleen Parker, Rachel Pendergrass, Daniel Riker, Karin Rosnizeck, Anetta Dexter Sawyer, Heather Marie Vitale, Zoe Walpole, Ronnie Zane . Ghosts/Movement: . Claire Aniela; Kristen Briscoe, Anne Flowers, Nerissa Hart, Rachel Montgomery, Shawnee Owens, Nicole Sliwka, Kyra Walker . Circus & Cabaret Performers: Francesca Arminio, Bearcat Betty, Divafit Pole Performers, Alex Doll, Lauren Hanyok, Samantha Kacos, Christinan Kloc, Mab Just Mab, The Lady Octavia, Erin Muessig, Eva Mystique, Alyssum Pohl, Peculiarity Productions, Walker & Wannall . Produced by TBD Immersive . Reviewed by Jill Kyle-Keith.