THAT’S F*CKED UP!‘s scandalous stint at Theatre Off Jackson’s Upstairs Gallery fueled a fair amount of chatter, trepidation, and curiosity over the last few weeks. Most of this pre-production speculation was fielded by duo Heidi Von Haught and Randi Rascal, in their first mutual venture curating a show. The premise: to construct a night (or two) of boundary-stretching acts that challenge or plumb the depths of depravity. Casting a rather wide net with this edict, the producers encouraged those involved to bring their most twisted material to the stage- in some cases acts too divergent to be featured elsewhere.
Heidi Von Haught, drawing on her lifelong fixation with human psychology, was almost unrecognizable as predatory killer clown John Wayne Gacy (finally revealing “Sissy Boy” painted on her bare chest- an insult Gacy’s father taunted him with during childhood). The dark circus vibe continued with a murderous duet by Inga Ingénue and host Armitage Shanks, and multiple live piercings by aerialist Jenny Penny. But not all acts were quite so carnal. Evilyn Sin Claire and Belle Cozette lightened the tone with their ridiculously pastoral pooping number “Porcelain Promenade”, bookended in the final act by unofficially titled “Period Piece”, a synchronized comic pastiche of tampon twirling and maxi-pads from Von Haught and Randi Rascal.
In keeping with the purpose of the show, Evilyn Sin Claire’s solo number (loosely referred to as “The Burqa Act”) drove the point home of what conceptual burlesque can communicate. With no intro, Evilyn appeared for the first eight measures covered head to toe in a burqa (the enveloping garment worn by Muslim women in public) and did a two-layered strip, literally and figuratively. Keeping her face enshrouded, Evilyn shed the symbolic garments of one culture to reveal traditional Western undergarments: a girdle, stockings, and impossibly high heels. From there, mouth covered in a medical mask, Evilyn completely strips both symbols of cultural oppression, and reverses into simple jeans and t-shirt.
“What I’m trying to represent is how cultural bondage restrains women’s ability for self expression across the board. In the Western world we erase women in a completely opposite way, reducing them only to their sex appeal,” Evilyn explained later. “I believe strongly in women’s rights to express themselves. To dress in the way they see fit, or safe. At the very end I reveal my mouth- the mask serves to show how I was silenced, but free of both Eastern and Western cultural bondage garments, I can now speak and express myself.”
Evilyn’s physicality alone is magnetically powerful- she can be sexy, devious, or playful, but she’s always three layers deep into what she does. Which exemplifies what a conceptual show is about: engaging an audience first, delivering a subtext to think about second. THAT’S F*CKED UP!‘s two parts contained acts that felt meandering and skit-like by comparison to the more contemplative numbers. In finding the balance between making art and dazzling an audience, there’s definitely room for more inventive stretching and developing.
Producers Randi Rascal and Heidi Von Haught clearly function well as two halves of an anarchist brain. In future endeavors I have a feeling both the ideas and the execution from those involved will only get tighter- and perhaps more fiendish.