nytheatre.com review by Daniel Kelley
December 20, 2007
For an audience member coming to see C'est Duckie, there is only one thing certain about any given performance: it will be completely different than any other performance of C'est Duckie. The amount of variables that C'est Duckie juggles on a nightly basis is impressive: on any given night an audience member could end up having the time of their lives or they could end up feeling awkward and disappointed. While there were moments that I enjoyed thoroughly, overall I was in the latter camp.
To explain how this is possible, let me describe how the show works. At around 8, you are ushered into the space at the CSV Cultural Center, and suddenly you find yourself in a swanky London cabaret—complete with evocative mood lighting, courteous and flattering waiters, and flowing champagne. My hat is off to the team behind C'est Duckie for transforming the space from your typical off-off-Broadway black box into a truly believable nightclub.
After being ushered in, you are shown to your seat at a table seating around 10 people. You are then given 40 "duckie dollars," and a menu of performances. From the menu, and based solely on the titles of the various acts, you are meant to order your performances for the evening. The titles of the acts can give you an idea of what to expect: "Nacho Snacho," "Dismember my Member," or "The Woman who Burnt her Chicken." There is also a "specials" menu, featuring a local cabaret performer who is performing his or her own unique act that night. On my night it was the drag performer Taylor Mac. All of these performances are, later in the evening, brought to your table and performed right in front of you, there, on the table.
The first hour of the show is spent drinking and order the performances. It takes the whole hour, because you are not ordering alone—the table as a whole is meant to agree on which performances to order. This is where the variables begin—your enjoyment of C'est Duckie depends in large part on who is seated with you. If you come to C'est Duckie with a group of friends, or if the people at the table you are seated with are friendly, fun loving, and into the idea of the show, I imagine you could have a great time. However, aside from my friend and a delightful Scotsman at my table, the feeling of camaraderie was awkward at best. This is the danger of presenting a show where the audience, and their interaction, is as much a part of the performance as the performance itself—and it's something that, despite all the best intentions in the world, can be neither predicted nor controlled.
At around 9, once the orders are all placed, the show itself begins: the four performers of Duckie perform a short dance number on the main stage. The number, like all the main stage pieces throughout the evening, feels uninspired and under-rehearsed. This is unfortunate, given the creativity presented throughout the rest of the show.
The individual table performances, however, are a treat. The members of Duckie come to each table and present the performances the table has ordered. The surprise is part of the fun, so I won't describe them in detail here, but suffice to say that they are all clever variations on classic vaudeville, circus, and cabaret acts that are engaging, imaginative, and a lot of fun. Unfortunately, due to the fact that there are only four performers in Duckie (plus the special guest), the time you wait at your table in between acts is often longer than desired. This, again, could be rendered a non-issue, if your table is full of friends or at least friendly faces to pass the time. This not being the case in my instance, the show seemed to drag at points.
The highlight of the evening, however, was the final performance, by the special guest, Taylor Mac. He stood up on a variety of tables, strumming a ukulele, and singing a darkly hilarious song about Christmas with his grandparents. Taylor Mac made the best use of the space of evening, dashing from tabletop to tabletop between verses, and totally filling the space. However, Mac was the "special" for my evening, and may not appear at some evenings' performances.
The evening finished with a finale of the four performers on the main stage—which fared about as well as the first number, and was a little bit of a let down after the fun of the individual table performances and Taylor Mac's song.
While C'est Duckie was a bit of a disappointment for me, each experience of C'est Duckie is going to be unique depending on who sits at your table, and what performances the table orders, and who the special of the night is. It's a unique theatrical experiment, unlike anything I've seen before—and the mystery of what might happen is very exciting to participate in. It could very well be a very fun evening at the theatre, and a night to remember. That being said, it also could not. However, if you're in a gambling mood, and you're feeling lucky, then go check out C'est Duckie.