Steampunk Cabaret Revels in Risqué Humor at Cat


Kaia Austin

OCircus member College first-year Em Notely is caught by College junior Annie Valocchi as Notley stares in shock at a letter they have just received. The performance ensemble regaled their audiences with plenty of humor and the occasional striptease.

Anne Pride-Wilt, Staff Writer

The student-run organization OCircus may call itself a circus, but a better label for the group’s production last week is cabaret — steampunk burlesque cabaret, to be precise. While the combination may sound half-baked or faddish on paper, the four performances of the Fall Cabaret “Mrs. Borden’s Boarding House” that took place at the Cat in the Cream last weekend were anything but. The strength of the writing and performance managed to transcend the production’s overdone premise and delight the audience with a stellar combination of humor and talent.

College first-year Em Notley as the eponymous Mrs. Borden ran both the show and the boarding house around which the production was set. Strutting around the stage in startlingly high platform heels and fluttering a handheld fan to great effect, Notley was the evening’s magnetic presence, as much because of their flawless line delivery as their pithy one-liners.

At the beginning of the show, it would have been easy for an audience member, swept away by Notley’s performance and the play-like atmosphere, to forget that it was an OCircus performance at all. But that perception would be rapidly corrected when the lights switched off and a blindfolded Nif Ward effected a near-perfect routine twirling poi, tethered and, in this case, lighted weights that are spun rapidly in a circle. The following circus-style acts were more explicitly tied to the thin plot — minions, played by College first-year Zoe Raizen and College sophomore Lillian White, engaged in a complex acrobatic dance-fight, which was followed by a hypnotic automaton dance number distinguished by the physical mirroring of each performer.

Equally impressive acts included College junior Adinha Shanholtz’s prostitution-themed hula-hoop routine, which was set to a Panic! At the Disco song, inducing a middle school flashback for some members of the crowd. Next, another excellent acro partner act featured the comical “If You’ve Only Got a Moustache,” originally written by Stephen Foster, extolling the arousing properties of the moustache. Another highlight was College sophomore Chris Bell’s breakdance/twerk/striptease number. As Bell, whose character was a pirate captain, announced at the end of the number, he was always expected to plunder booty, when all he wanted to do was “shake me booty.”

This off-kilter, self-aware sense of humor pervaded the show and kept the steampunk aesthetic — the abounding corsets and garter belts, the airships, the mad scientist — from becoming too precious. Not even the live piano cues guiding the show were safe from it. At one point, Mrs. Borden shrieked and demanded to know who let the pianist into her living room. The show also delighted in its own prurience. Aside from the aforementioned hula-hoop act and the twerking pirate, five “automatons,” demonstrating their sexual fitness, stripped in sequence, underscoring the adult content warnings taped outside of the Cat door and announced at the beginning of the show. The show’s less-than-family-friendly aspects did not go unappreciated by Saturday’s enthusiastic midnight crowd.

OCircus’s Fall Cabaret may not have been perfect, but who needs perfect when the show has the crowd laughing hysterically and gasping with awe in all the right places? OCircus succeeded in combining acrobatics, dance, singing, acting and comedy into one lumpy but thoroughly entertaining display. The performers were clearly having every bit as much fun as the audience, and the show’s humor was just too darn infectious to dislike. Even if steampunk wasn’t everyone’s thing, circus or music or drama or humor almost certainly was, so there was something for everyone — except, of course, for children.