TUTA Theatre Chicago at DCASE Storefront Theater. By Martin Marion. Directed by Jacqueline Stone. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 45mins; one intermission.
Theater review by Kevin Thomas
The Anyway Cabaret: An Animal Cabaret, was a cabaret, anyway, that’s what I’ll say.
But as a play, any plot it shuns, and I needed more than rhymes and puns,
in TUTA’s cabaret cliche, and I’m not writing a whole review in verse either.
At first glance the stark red-and-black runway adorned with creepy costumes suggests the production will be a twisted-comedy musical revue. The minor-key opening number is confidently and comfortably ironic: Animals don’t do cabarets, but they’re animals, and they’ll do one anyway, because they have to. Also, everybody dies.
But the performances that follow are straight out of Raffi—and not Raffi’s best work either. Innocent songs like “Kangaroo Poo” and “A Fish with a Wish” clash with stylistic attempts at a more adult, sinister purpose. And when every song is in rhyme, based on a pun, the lyrical range becomes limited over 17 numbers. It’s not that I didn’t laugh, because I did, and it’s not that the performances weren’t fun, because they were. It’s that if a single neuron fired in my brain, the experience was ruined. At this point you know about as much as I do as to why the animals put on a cabaret in the first place, and the puns don’t even make sense. Who cares if the fox has no socks?
There’s happiness in a production of pure cotton candy, but The Anyway Cabaret isn’t quite that, either. It spoils its own fun not only with its “dark” atmosphere, but with its one structural element: the Deer (Sean Ewert). He’s the sole character outside the cabaret, and the goal of the other animals is to get him to join in as the star before his own demise. Here’s the thing: the Deer is cast as a negative nancy, a bit of a dick who critiques and puts down the show. But horrifyingly, he says on the stage exactly what I’m thinking in the audience. “This cabaret is silly.” “These numbers don’t even make sense.” “Why do we have to put on this cabaret anyway?” I will grant that The Anyway Cabaret is the first show to make me think maybe I’m trapped in an absurdist scenario where an anthropomorphic deer explains every problem with the show I’m watching while he’s in the show and oh my god is that actually the point?
No. It isn’t.