Gratuitous Novelty: A locked away cabaret
nytheatre.com review by Robin Reed
August 19, 2008
At Gratuitous Novelty: a Locked Away Cabaret, tacked onto the end of the basic "Welcome the the Fringe" curtain speech, we are told, in no uncertain terms, that the show we are about to see will contain Gratuitous Nudity (it did), Gratuitous Sex (pretty much), and Gratuitous Violence (yes), but no Gratuitous Political Statement (it did not). We are also told, basically, that if you are not a fan of audience participation, i.e., being dragged up on stage and told to perform, then "too bad."
As daunting as those statements may be, they set the stage for Gratuitous Novelty, which plays for just one more show down at the Deluxe at Spiegelworld. The last performance is Friday at 8:30pm, which I imagine is a more appropriate hour to see this piece than 3:30 on Wednesday afternoon when I saw it. I am sure that darkness would add that extra layer of titillation that seemed missing from the afternoon showing.
Which isn't to say that I didn't fully enjoy myself. I did indeed. And for a midday cabaret (and "Locked Away" is certainly the correct term—the Deluxe is the needle in the haystack that is the South Street Seaport), a very willing and game audience had gathered.
(I should note here that I did not receive a program and am unable to give specific credit to the artists.)
Gratuitous Novelty is the naughty lovechild of Modern Dance and a Burlesque Carnival, telling the tale of a childhood gone sadly awry at the hands of a babysitter who introduced her charge to the tingles of sex at an early age. It is a melancholic story, to be sure, yet it is told with wise humor and set to a hilarious, if mildly creepy, soundtrack including songs from Sesame Street and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. There is a nod to Mr. Rogers' changing shoes routine that is weird and wrong in the most devious and delicious of ways.
The performers are sexy and mysterious, and their dance flows between smooth modern acrobatics and self-inflicted near-violence. And they all play their parts with this look on their face that is all at once intensely focused and disdainfully dismissive. At times, I felt as if I had stumbled upon a dominatrix dungeon, especially when the very adventurous audience members were brought on stage for their participation. As a reviewer, I never want to be brought into the fold like that, but it was certainly satisfying to see the extent to which Gratuitous Novelty got strangers to play along with them. And I'm certain that it is the cheapest spanking you could ever pay for in this city!
My one piece of participation came when the Ringmaster came over and sat next to me in my velvet booth (the seating is fantastic!). I couldn't, nay, wouldn't meet her glance and my belly was all a-flutter. She plainly asked me if I was enjoying the show.
I was. And it continued. Short and sweet, with nary a Gratuitous Political Statement to be found!