Sure, we now have an impressive annual Fringe Festival, not to mention a theater company devoted to the grotesque theatrics of the Grand Guignol tradition. But I still can’t help feeling sad waving goodbye to the debauched company that started it all: Cherry Red Productions.
Ian Allen’s smut-loving company, which began performing in 1996 and frequently took the stage at Metro Cafe on 14th Street (Remember that place?), is going out with a bang (or many) on Saturday with “The Aristocrats,” which will feature a number of Cherry Red alums who are familiar faces from stages around town: Longacre Lea’s Kathleen Akerley, local burlesque fixture Kris Roth, WSC’s Christopher Henley, plus Kate Debelack and Frank Britton, among many others.
And just how depraved will the show be? Let’s take a look at the company’s press release, shall we?
For its final act, D.C.’s only theater company dedicated to smut, Cherry Red Productions, will take the dirtiest joke of all time, “The Aristocrats,” and [redacted] it in [redacted]. And as any theatergoer familiar with the company’s record of expertise in the art of stage blood, vomit, [redacted], [redacted], runny [redacted], [redacted], [redacted] and dog [redacted] will assure you: They’re just the folks to do it.
If that’s not enough evidence of the vulgarity to come, take it from me: I read the script — on my office computer. So before HR comes to escort me out of the building, here’s a filthy walk down memory lane with choice snippets of Washington Post reviews and features from Cherry Red shows of yore:
Before performances of “Cannibal Cheerleaders on Crack,” Cherry Red Productions Artistic Director Ian Allen or one of his cohorts tosses condoms at the usually 20-something crowd and says, “If you don’t know who we are, we’re Washington’s only theater company dedicated to smut.”
— Jane Horwitz (Jan. 23, 1999)
Among other things, “Baked Baby” features a young, upwardly mobile Mormon couple who, well, bake the child their families pressured them into having; a pair of church elders less interested in religion than in sex (usually with each other); and a sinister, symbolic figure in black who, in preparing for the fulfillment of a Mormon prophecy, takes a baby rattle and does something with it that’s unprintable in a family newspaper. There’s also a gratuitous amount of toilet humor, but consider the foregoing the real highlights.
— William Triplett (Feb. 16, 2000)
What’s not to like about “Zombie Attack!”? It’s got sex, it’s got drugs, it’s got blood, it’s got guts and, best of all, it’s got the undead. And they’re hungry. They could eat a horse, but they prefer people. In this hilariously gross play by Justin Tanner and Andy Daley, brought thoroughly to life in Cherry Red Productions’ raucously nutty staging, they eat a lot of people. Some of whom deserve it.
— William Triplett (June 23, 2000)
The script’s parody of Shakespearean language is sometimes pretty clever. But it’s also full of plain old lewd intentions; in a relatively tame example, the nearly 80-year-old Romeo cries out: “Won’t some hot chickie throw this old dog a bone?”
— Nelson Pressley on “Romeo and Juliatric” (Sept. 5, 2000)
The show, which opened last weekend in a 14th Street bar, veers pretty wildly between the obvious and the foul, and at times things are so doody-pants infantile you worry that “Dwarves” will give bad taste a bad name. But just as often the evening serves up bottom-of-the-barrel laughs with a little wit and style.
— William Triplett on “Seven Deadly Dwarves” (May 29, 2001)
A third sex! If such a thing could be created — something beyond male and female — what would it look like? What could it look like? “Bluebeard," one of the late Charles Ludlam's many outrageous farces, offers up one possibility, the sight of which might send you into convulsions of either laughter or gagging, or both.
— William Triplett (Dec. 18, 2001)
The more I see of Cherry Red Productions, the more I wonder whether my standards have slipped a bit. There was a time when I was repulsed by Cherry Red’s smut-for-smut’s-sake aesthetic. And yet I found myself laughing (does the word “hyena” come to mind?) at its latest offering, “Schoolgirl Figure,” a comedy exploring the finer points of anorexia nervosa and bulimia.
— Dolores Whiskeyman (June 26, 2002)
Now I know these Cherry Red people like to put on comedies about terrible things — child molesters and cannibalism and so forth. So I was prepared to see a few unsettling sights, and I did — full-frontal male nudity and simulated sex and Gertrude’s bare breasts. But somehow I’m not sure I’ll ever get over the sight of that one young man with his, well his, you know in his hand squirting his you know what out over the audience. This is a theater company that likes to squirt things — they squirted a lot of blood in Act 2 — so they hand out garbage bags to people in the first three rows. Still, I thought it was pretty undignified to have to watch a play from inside a garbage bag.
— Dolores Whiskeyman (writing in the guise of the playwright’s English teacher) on “Spamlet” (Aug. 20, 2002)
That’s about as far as the plot goes, but this is the latest offering from Cherry Red Productions, so who needs a plot? You can have a couple of brewskis and wait for the blood to spew! Fans of Cherry Red will find enough here to satisfy their craving for bad acting and B-movie plotting. But unlike earlier Cherry Red ventures, which have occasionally risen to sharp social satire, “Coyote Woman” is neither especially offensive nor particularly clever. It’s just plain goofy.
— Dolores Gregory (Feb. 14, 2003)
Now in its “ninth slutty season,” Cherry Red has gleefully violated Washington area stages with R-rated productions whose titles sometimes can’t even be listed in a family newspaper. Though the group skewed serious at the end of last season with “Kenneth, What Is the Frequency?” “Worm Girl” finds Artistic Director Ian Allen and Co. returning to their wonderfully foul, irreverent ways.
— Tricia Olszewski (Sept. 6, 2003)
Highlights include Monique LaForce, who gives a hilarious performance as Nike, slightly drunken goddess of victory who lost status when humanity developed the “It’s how you play the game” attitude; Yan Xi as a power-hungry Devil-lover who justifies her relationship with her gangsta-like boyfriend by saying, “Yes, he’s rough, but so is the commute!”; and Tony Greenberg, sporting a button-bursting red suit, Bible and pasted-on grin, who asks the members of the audience whether they’ve accepted Santa Claus as their personal savior.
— Tricia Olszewski on “Anger Box” (Nov. 12, 2003)
When invited to a holiday party in the Southern California home of Jake and Lorette, a perfectly appropriate gift would be a case of K-Y jelly. See, this swinging couple has a chamber, just off the living room, where the guests strip down to the altogether and engage in group activities that might invite the interest of your friendly neighborhood XXX-rated movie house.
— Peter Marks on “Wife Swappers” (Dec. 14, 2010)