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Flash Review 2, 3-30: Honest, Twisted Burlesque
Muz Muses on Molls and Dolls

By Karinne Keithley
Copyright 2001 Karinne Keithley

I'm putting on my Henry Mancini record to write about Julie Atlas Muz's "Love, Guts, (cha cha cha)," which opened last night at P.S. 122, though it's a poor substitute for the '60s Polish chanteuse that would clinch the mood just now. Add some cheap liquor, a lady dashing by in a trench coat, perhaps a round table with a lamp on it and some red velvet wallpaper and a well-timed entrance of chorus girls and I'd be half way back. If the recent New York Times article about the latter days of Las Vegas showgirls made you sad that you may have missed your chance to discover the magic of girls in sparkly underwear with giant feather fans, I'd suggest checking out this tres charmant entertainment.

The form of "Love, Guts, (cha cha cha) is a series of related vignettes, a burlesque revue. There's lots of pink, plenty of weapons, a swank line-up of tunes, alternately oppressed and empowered generic factory-worker ladies, victorious fists at the end of songs, four large feather fans, and lots of murder. The charming thing is that it's all contained within the recognizable form of show-girl dancing. Each number generally takes the theme of the woman on the edge, though always in rhythm. I favor the sections with women in trench-coats and heels, a lo-fi "Umbrellas of Cherbourg" look. Frequently the punctuating moments involve pulling a gun (the publicity mentioned a high body count), but these shots yield a sweet pleasure when they pick off a line of ladies one by one, all dropping in a well-timed wave.

There's a loose trajectory of frustration-violence-suicide-ghost dance-rousing finale. Even as the show moves toward the point where half the cast kill themselves (their stabbed, poisoned, hanging bodies only to become the set dressing for an Yma Sumac bright pink mambo), the humor doesn't feel dark -- it's too vampy to be disturbing. There is, however, something very lovely about it, something I can't quite put my finger on, all this dejection and depravity with such a swanky sound score. When, toward the end, the pacing of the show slows down and the simple couching of a twisted situation in a high-kick musical form is lost, the critical energy drains a little.

A show like this brings up the issue of reference, a traffic in a certain mode which has a comforting nostalgic wit, but relies on its throwback status for its style and comedy. (For example, the mind-numbing parade of '70s, then '80s styles in recent fashion.) Muz, however, manages to avoid the easy pitfall of straight reference by creating something which is more in the spirit of revival. An honest, though twisted, burlesque.

"Love, Guts" continues at P.S. 122 through Sunday, with shows at 8:30 p.m.

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