Caligula Maximus

A debauched Roman emperor goes gaga at La MaMa.

  • FORBIDDEN FRUIT Knowles, center, enjoys the view behind Joli.

FORBIDDEN FRUIT Knowles, center, enjoys the view behind Joli.

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5

Hedonistic Roman emperor Caligula—known for indulging in incest, bestiality, pedophilia and infanticide—inspired both ecstasy and agony. Too bad Alfred Preisser and Randy Weiner’s circus spectacle rarely evokes such strong reactions. Despite free-flowing beer, complimentary Penthouse issues and porn pin-up Justine Joli as the caesar’s perpetually nude wife, the show never delivers the money shot, although there’s plenty of dry humping along the way.

This is Preisser and Weiner’s second go at Caligula (a similar production starring Broadway vet Andr de Shields played the Classical Theatre of Harlem in 2005), and like last time, the actor in the title role provides most of the pleasure. Ryan Knowles’s performance is as flamboyant as the glittery gold penis he arrives on, and often recalls Tim Curry’s Dr. Frank-N-Furter with his androgynous sex appeal, surprisingly rich baritone and campy comic timing. The rest of the 30-plus cast are basically specialty acts: strongmen and women, sideshow freaks, acrobats and trapeze artists, regulars at the Box or Coney Island. Each has their moment, especially aerialist Anya Sapozhnikova as Caligula’s sexy sis. But the group numbers are sloppy, and the whole she-gang-bang seems derivative of other shows, namely The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Hair, and the epic works of performance artists Ethyl Eichelberger and Taylor Mac. The creators are aiming for a party, but what they achieve is pass.

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La MaMa E.T.C. Written by Alfred Preisser and Randy Weiner. Dir. Preisser. With ensemble cast. 1hr 25mins. No intermission.