REVIEW: Rollin Outta Here Naked Burlesque (Vaudezilla)

Burlesque Revue Lands a Spare



Vaudezilla presents
Rollin’ Outta Here Naked:
     A Big Lebowski Burlesque
Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through September 25th  |  tickets: $15   |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

There’s no question that burlesque has seen a dramatic resurgence in popularity over the last decade, and Chicago has become a hotbed for this sultry, sexy and comedic form of entertainment.

biglebowskiburlesque2 Vaudezilla is one of the newer players in the Chicago scene. Founded by performer Red Hot Annie and producer Keith Emroll in 2008, the company began performing monthly gigs at the punk club Exit Chicago and weekly gigs at Blue Bayou in the Southport corridor. The company then achieved national recognition with the premier of Rollin’ Outta Here Naked: A Big Lebowski Burlesque.

Now Vaudezilla is back with a remounting of its signature show. If you’re a fan of the classic Cohen brothers movie, this show is definitely aimed at you. Otherwise, you might feel a little lost amongst the barrage of inside jokes. Fortunately, I am one of these diehard “Big Lebowski” fans.

Released in 1998, the movie is a surreal comedy of errors involving The Dude (Jeff Bridges), an ultra-relaxed stoner type who embodies everything Zen. He is paired with his exact foil, a large loud-mouthed Vietnam War vet named Walter (John Goodman). The two end up caught in the middle of an extortion scheme gone awry that involves a cast of colorful characters, including a disabled millionaire, an avant-garde artist, a pornographer and a band of nihilists. The Dude and Walter, along with their third-wheel friend Donny (Steve Buscemi), bowl in their spare time—thus the title of Vaudezilla’s revue.

The revue is not a dramatic retelling of “The Big Lebowski.”  It is rather more akin to a sketch show where a series of fairly unconnected scenes are strung together to form a cohesive whole. These scenes are all inspired by the movie, and some are in fact directly lifted from the film. Every three or four scenes there is a burlesque performance highlighting a different member of the Vaudezilla company. Audience members are encouraged to hoot and howl because, presumably, nothing is more awkward than undressing for a completely deadpan, silent audience.

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The highlight of the show is by far and away the burlesque scenes. Let’s be clear here: Burlesque is not stripping. Yes, the girls disrobe and tantalize the audience by gyrating and coyly revealing exposed skin. But the ladies always purposefully undercut this sexiness with their wry sense of humor. Take for example the scene titled “Nobody Fucks with The Jesus,” in which performer Maria May I dresses in drag to portray the pedophiliac bowler and Dude nemesis Jesus. Throughout the dance, in which she manipulates a bowling ball to sensual effect, she sports a fake goatee. No matter how much her conventional sexiness draws you in, you are immediately slapped in the face by the sight of her facial hair. It is a clever and entertaining bit of theater that succeeds on multiple levels.

biglebowskiburlesque8 However, non-burlesque portions of the show weigh the revue down. Meant as comedic vignettes to separate the dances, these short sketches inspired by characters and scenes in the movie feel too much like senseless filler. That’s not to say a couple don’t hit their marks, especially “Just Dropped In,” a live re-enactment of the movie’s famous dream sequence, as well as “Knox Harrington, Video Artist” in which actor Kyle Greer gives the performance of a lifetime as an operatic nut job. But overall, one finds himself wanting to see more burlesque in this burlesque revue.

Rollin’ Outta Here Naked is a gimmicky formula that could probably be applied to any cult classic (I for one would love to see “The Goonies” get the burlesque treatment). Although there are sluggish parts throughout the show, the ladies of Vaudezilla really know how to pick the energy up with their serpentine moves and flirtatious glances. If you identify with The Dude or you just really enjoy burlesque, gyrate over to the Greenhouse Theater Center.

Rating: ★★★


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REVIEW: The Emigrants (Moving Stories Theatre)

The Polish Odd Couple

The Emigrants - AA and XX

Moving Stories Theatre presents:

The Emigrants


by Slawomir Mrozek
directed by Goran Milev
through February 21st (more info)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Chicago audiences rarely get a chance to see the stimulating and provocative work of Polish playwright Slawomir Mrozek. For that reason alone, it’s worthwhile to high tail it to Moving Stories Theatre’s showing of The Emigrants at The Artistic Home. This is the first in a series of World Theater they will be presenting for the 2010 season and if their opening shot is any indication of future productions, we are all in for a real treat.

Written in 1974, The Emigrants reflects both the philosophical and the mundane dilemmas of émigrés from Eastern Block states living in the West. Commenting on his own immigrant experience in a letter, Mrozek wrote, “I never experience such a Image1sharpening of [my] senses and thoughts as in an unfamiliar country, an unfamiliar city, among unfamiliar people, whose language preferably I do not know. [This offers] such intensification of life, of my whole existence.”

That state aptly describes Emigrant XX (Goran Milev, who also directs the productions), the prosaic prole who wants to make just enough money to own a house back in the old, totalitarian home country. Emigrant AA (Joe Mack), a Polish liberal intellectual succeeds him in education and abstract understanding, but hasn’t enough drive to get dressed and step out of the basement apartment they share. Without a dollar in his pocket, XX finds excitement going to the train station and standing among the people there, while AA stays on the subterranean level, imagining himself as an organism in the bowels of a great beast.

Together, XX and AA make up a pre-Perestroika Polish odd couple–getting on each other’s nerves over issues that are either petty, but significant to daily survival, or are deeply profound but, without traction, vanish into airy nothingness. Milev, in particular, strikes all the right notes portraying XX’s new emigrant awkwardness and anxiousness to be acceptable. Compounded by a capacity for taking concepts too far and reluctance in admitting when he doesn’t understand something, XX’s character drives most of the comedy of the piece.

Image7 Indeed, he seems to be its heart and soul, especially when AA determines to make him the center of his new work of political theory. Never mind that AA hasn’t completed any work, intellectual or otherwise, since he’s arrived—XX cannot leave until it is done. Here, the enlightened intellectual begins to reflect the control of the totalitarian state they have both left. But then, as XX astutely pointed out earlier, under totalitarianism the both of them were equal—in slavery. New rules and not-so-new divisions of class and privilege determine their value as human beings in the so-called free world.

It’s here where the production falls short in teasing out all the layers of darkness, paradox, and absurdity. But then, Mzorek packs more into an 80-minute one-act than most playwrights do into two hours. Mack’s interpretation of AA is especially casual—that, and no discernible accent, makes AA like a slightly more educated Dude from The Big Lebowski than a despondent Polish intellectual émigré. A certain lack of fire and intensity, particularly when holding forth dearly held political views, robs Mack of an edge to be realistically threatening once the story turns dark. Both actors do sustain the dynamic tension between them, however, long enough to suggest the pearl of madness at the bottom of AA’s soul–and the pearl of wit that dwells at the bottom of XX’s.

The Emigrant’s run will be short—only until February 21st. For those who crave more intellectual fare and seek a break from the cultural insularity of American life, this small, dense political drama may prove to be a walk on the wild side.

Rating: ★★★


the emigrants