Arts Desk

The Show Was as Nasty as the Weather

In the end, it was nearly as disgusting outside as it was inside the Warehouse theater. But even the sheets of rain and lashing winds of Hurricane Irene couldn't deter Cherry Red Productions, which ended its 16-year history on Saturday night with The Aristocrats, a live enactment of the legendarily dirty joke of the same name. As writers and directors Ian Allen and Kate Debelack promised me a couple weeks ago, their swan song was filthy, sticky, and as indefatigably raunchy as they could make it. (Actually, had there been a swan in the show, it probably would have been killed and fucked.)

There were acts of incest and coprophila; honor killings and self-sacrifice; a dog was circumcised. And yes, a few rows of the audience were showered by the various fluids ejected by the three dozen members of the cast. (Don't worry, the blood was fake and Silly String was used as a stand-in for, well, figure it out.) Though if someone squirted more than anyone, it was Irene from the skies above, as drops of water seeped through the Warehouse's ceiling all night. The people in the first three rows were probably pleased that Allen passed out garbage bags for protection before the show began.

It began benignly enough, with the father, played by Tony Greenberg, playing an extended version of "Send in the Clowns." Some of the biggest laughs came early as Greenberg prolonged the descent into blue material by reprising the standard. Then he mooned the audience and let out a long, loud fart, and it was off to the races. Clothes came off, the cast expanded into curling-iron-wielding homeless women, freaky accordionists, mermaids, and Macy Gray. A few of the women, including the daughter, the mermaid, and the "Burka Bitches" (don't ask) spent nearly the entire show topless. Some of the men were fitted with prominent prosthetic devices, others let their natural selves hang out. Osama bin Laden was naked save an explosive belt. A big baby, after removing his diaper, wore only a schmear of chocolate pudding exactly where you're thinking.

And though the whole thing was riotous—I was seated next to the Warehouse's owners Molly and Raymond Ruppert, who seemed to revel in the increasing silliness happening on their stage—something about Saturday night's show felt anticlimactic. No one doubted Allen, Debelack, and their cohorts would deliver on the promised debauchery, but knowing it was "The Aristocrats" joke took some of the wind out. The name of the joke is never said until the very end, and though that's how Cherry Red's physical performance of it played out, being familiar with the nature of the joke lessened the surprise on Saturday night.

Not that it wasn't uproarious. For 40 minutes the cast members humped and writhed all over each other; credit Christopher Henley, who played the agent, for remaining stone-faced the entire time. Washington Post critic Nelson Pressley was there too, receiving special attention from the narrator during one of the brief act breaks. (And to answer the narrator's question, yes, the paper that took down the Nixon Administration ran an article about a show in which "a retard fucks a baby in its neckhole.") Some moves were terribly shocking, such as when a knife-wielding mentally handicapped person eviscerated the dog. (Though the adorable pooch quickly sprang back to life to eat some more shit.)

It was all wild and hysterical, and then it was over. This "Aristocrats" wasn't Gilbert Gottfried lifting a wounded nation's spirits, but was it worth braving the height of Irene's fury? Irene might have ruined my shoes en route, but at least I didn't get sprayed during the show.

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