Beauty and the Beast: In brief
The continually provocative wife-and-husband team of Julie Atlas Muz and Mat Fraser—she's a performance artist and choreographer; he's an English performer with foreshortened arms from being born a thalidomide baby—blend fable and reality (and puppetry) in a tale of love and disability, directed by Phelim McDermott (Shockheaded Peter).
Beauty and the Beast: Theater review by Helen Shaw
Is it perverse to call Julie Atlas Muz and Mat Fraser's full-frontal, sexually frank Beauty and the Beast sweet? For heaven's sake, what happens to the prop fruit alone would panic the vice squad. Yet honeyed delight rolls off this thing in waves: The stage is a rose-twined valentine, and the frequently nude lead performers celebrate their real-life marriage to the point of constantly, wholeheartedly making out.
When burlesque star Muz and British writer-performer Fraser (also known ’round Coney Island as Sealboy) got hitched, they became a transatlantic sideshow power couple, the real life Titania and Oberon of the fairy-freak set. It's more than romantic love they're touting, though. They also preach the neoburlesque gospel of inclusivity and raunch-positivity. Their shamelessness proves magnetic, drawing self-consciousness off you as a lodestone draws metal filings; the nakedness is joyful and only sometimes sensual—it's the kind of show that ends with spontaneous hugging in the audience.
Muz and Fraser have been working on versions of this French tale for half a decade. Now with the help of Improbable Theatre's Phelim McDermott, they've built a piece one part camp fairytale (Fraser in goat-hair chaps), one part confessional stage-chat about their own lives. The mohawked, whippet-lean Fraser was born, thanks to thalidomide, without forearms; he speaks ruefully about his missing thumbs as the digits that separate the “human” from the “beast.” Muz plays a sillier, riper presence. She, for instance, tells us she has named her pillow after her husband. “Isn't that right, Mat?” she asks the prop pillow, right before kissing it into submission.
Despite the R-rated visuals, some of McDermott's inventive staging is almost traditional: The Cocteau-like take on the fable has gifted “puppeteer slaves” Jess Mabel Jones and Jonny Dixon doing overhead-transparency projections and even playing Fraser's disembodied arms. Philip Eddolls's set gives them billowing curtains to peep through; Kevin Pollard dresses them up in silk robes, which are (of course) always falling open. Muz and Fraser, though, fight the polish. They fell in love at Coney Island, and they've fallen in love with Coney Island. McDermott may have buffed their tale to a gleam, but thank goodness there's still boardwalk grit underneath their feet making the whole seem real, present and dear.—Theater review by Helen Shaw