Foul weather, foul show Saturday night as a loyal band of followers crowded the small Warehouse Theatre for a final, one-night-only debauch by the dastardly, shuttering Cherry Red Productions.
What better send-off for these princelings of smut — every troupe needs a niche — than an elaborate staging of the famous dirty joke “The Aristocrats”? If you don’t know the joke, you can check out the 2005 Paul Provenza documentary of the same name, which features countless comedians telling the joke and explaining it. The gag is about a traditional family unit showing up at a talent agent’s office and doing depraved things to one another. “What do you call yourselves?” the agent asks. You know the punch line.
Six minutes into the Cherry Red show an audience member, already grossed out by some pants-down maneuver, could be heard groaning, “Too much!” By the half-hour mark of the 40-minute affair, patrons in the front rows were cowering behind the plastic trash bags handed out by the company, dreading the next fake bodily fluid sure to be jetted at them.
That counts as a triumph for ringleader Ian Allen (who wrote and directed this with Kate Debelack) and the nearly three dozen actors in outrageous costumes and, not infrequently, undress. The act quickly became a stunt, a dare: How could the next incident be sicker than what we just saw?
Well. There’s a dog, played by an actress in a lewd mutt costume (props to the props department). There’s a topless mermaid who does a headstand, and a couple of pregnant tuna who have their eggs fertilized by a giant lobster. There’s Osama bin Laden, nude, and Macy Gray, only if you can picture Macy Gray in “Pink Flamingos.” Tasteless? Crude? As advertised.
That’s what Cherry Red was in its little spot on the margin of D.C. theater: the giddy house transgressors. Their show titles have sometimes been unprintable and they’ve had as many misses as hits, but there was a crisp and merry abandon to this shabby spectacle that kept the audience swept up in the prank.
Not that there is any way to praise the plotting or acting. A narrator in voice-over described what Party A does to Party B (and C, and D), and the actions were then crudely demonstrated by the shameless performers, sometimes dressed as giant anatomical bits. (How do you put that on a resume?) The early show Saturday even questioned the wisdom of this august publication’s reviewing such a blatantly pointless travesty.
Well. “The Aristocrats” was an appropriate exit for the company — lotta party, not much art and over the line all the way, which is where Cherry Red always left its mark.