Wednesday, October 14, 2015
"An Audience With Meow Meow" Presented by ArtsEmerson - Meow Meow Purrs and Claws Her Way Into Boston Hearts
ArtsEmerson kicked off its 2015-2016 season with the excellent "Ernest Shackleton Loves Me" starring Valerie Vigoda and Wade McCollum. This season is being billed by ArtsEmerson as "Intentionally Different - Entirely ArtsEmerson." The series certainly builds on that solid beginning with the current offering of "An Audience With Meow Meow." This show lives up to that promise to be different.
I am going to be intentionally coy in withholding many details about what happens on stage - and off stage - in this wild and memorable evening of theater. It is an adventuresome admixture of kamikaze cabaret, burlesque, stand-up comedy, theater of the absurd and social commentary all mixed up and baked in a beautiful pie. Oh, wait! That is a different show!
I am withholding details because I want to avoid the danger of spoiling some of the surprises that await an audience member who puts himself or herself in the seats at the Cutler Majestic to experience one of the most hands-on evenings of theater I have had the pleasure to enjoy. So, I will not talk about exactly what Meow Meow does during her act, but I will reveal my understanding of why she does what she does and the overarching message she is sending to her audiences.
I take great pains to examine the set design for any show I see - looking for thematic clues to what I might expect as the show unfolds. In the case of "An Audience With Meow Meow," the set (Andrea Lauer, based on an original design by Neil Murray) includes a huge gold frame that has added pieces of broken frames. I began to anticipate that Meow Meow had designed a program that places itself within the framework of recognized theater forms - cabaret, burlesque - but that she would also shatter expectations and move outside of the frame and color outside of the lines. I was correct in my prognostication. From her entrance to her spectacular and invasive exit, she defied expectations.
As she entered the stage she was dragging a large steamer trunk. I think she was saying to us symbolically that we all bring baggage to the performance that is our life. It is what we do with that baggage that matters.
Near the end of the show, a sheer scrim was hoisted aloft. It contained memorabilia - costumes, sheet music, playbills - that symbolized many of the women who have performed on Boston stages in the past and have defied expectations and broken taboos: Isadora Duncan, Sally Rand, et al.. Meow Meow certainly places herself in that long line of pioneering performers. She wrapped herself in a garb that was electrified and lit with many small bulbs and boasting bits of memorabilia from past performers, almost recapitulating Broadway's Gypsy Robe tradition.
Throughout the performance, she constantly found new ways to reach out to the audience and to invite the audience to reach out to her. She often dressed and undressed on stage - symbolizing her invitation for us to join her in taking risks and becoming emotionally naked before one another. Her in-your-face approach to entertainment and commentary is not for everyone's taste. One couple seated near the front of the Orchestra section conspicuously got up and departed halfway through the performance. But those of us who stayed - who do not suffer from "hardening of the categories" - were treated to a memorable and challenging evening.
This feline femme fatale implores us to embrace her - and to embrace our common humanity, to re-examine and re-define what it means to be human and a part of a dynamic community that communicates and care for one another in ever-changing ways.
This performer takes enormous risks, but she seems to have nine lives and always manages to land on her feet - or in the outstretched hands of her supportive audience.
This unique presentation will be repeated through October 24th at the Cutler Majestic. Get your tickets now. I think you may find it as invigorating and intoxicating as cat nip.