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Cabaret:

Life-Affirming Celebration of Psychosis

After weeks of praxis, a motley mishmash of foreigners, geeks, star children, conservatives and rebels pulled off what has been heralded as the most revolutionary performance piece in recent Swarthmore herstory.
Last semester, Yonathan Dessalegn ('96) invited Amiri Baraka to speak. Baraka, formerly Le Roi Jones, author of Dutchman, finale of the Director's night of scenes also this weekend, Baraka spoke of homestyle artistic revolution; culture that doesn't come prepackaged, culture performed in your living room, between friends. (I wrote Forging Culture following his talk.)
Cabaret was hyperhomestyle - the likes of which I ain't seen much of in these parts. A mood of prurient permission and performance; like open mike at Pub Nite conducted during a full moon by obsessive theatric fascists with a taste for the beats.
Olde Clubbe was as recollective of Berlin 1932 as a former fraternity house can get. Red table cloths, periphery of seats in shadow, narrow asiles, a small stage bathed in white light. Robert Palmer-style waitressess slithered between teetering customers, distributing intoxicants. The strict policy of smoking and cigarette sales fostered not only a fog, but a stench. Mary Gergen said it was decadent.

Above the stage, the balcony burgeoned with fresh funk. A six piece band - including sax and female vocals - styled catchy original hip-hop inflected jazzrock. Props, to the musicians for coherence and dancibility, and to the singer for ethereal effervescence.

The focus of the show was below - not just the stage, though, Cabaret performed the audience. Each of the three nights, a raucous row broke out between two women in the back. The second time, a sensitive swattie tried to mediate.

Snits or skits, Cabaret defied polite neutrality. Whether your bonnet's bee took wing at frat boys posing as purturbed homosexuals, or black women shouting "Honky!" Cabaret recalled the spirit of the old Saturday Night Live, when deliberate honesty shocked better than shrinkwrapped shlock.

Cabaret Women Swarthmore's most reveared cannons were targeted by this potshot performance: a disillusioned freshwoman left President Al Bloom desperately squeaky voicemail imploring him to fuck theory and take action. A talkshow Sensible Thinking lambasted both political correctness and conservatism: beleaguered freshfolk bemoaned the lack of history courses grounded in dates and treaties, as disenchanted multiculties postured for an obsequious prof.

Cabaret visited obsession and productivity; self-consciously proposing a new Swarthmore mantra - "Read Write Produce!" A television junkie described himself as "not the sort of man who mutes." Stress worn, a student decided his death was the only thing within his control. Another academically unproductive student procrastinated by sending late night telepathic messages to female folks singers - she implored the audience, "When I ask if there's a Santa, tell me there's a Santa - don't tell me to take econ."

Not all of it was cutting edge insight, or appreciably subtle - much of it was bluntly provocative navel-gazing, cathartical: the show ended with a rousing rendition of "Parrish is Burning" chanted by audience and performers. The overt and underlying celebration of passion over intellect was a refreshing goose up the ass, right in time for finals, the height of sublimation through study.

Encouraging audience reaction was the key to Cabaret's vitality - life-affirming engagement. The response was overwhelmingly positive. "There were times I felt like Cabaret was speaking directly to me," said Amy Tapia '97. Eli Rubin '97 said it was the first time he'd been noticably lifted from his depression since the death of friend Gabe Cavalleri.

Once a month would be a great rate of Cabaret, this place needs regular comedy rejoinder.

Years ago there was an annual musical comedy revue called The Hamburg Show - incorporating faculty and staff, as well as students. Institutionalizing Cabaret would take the load off the producers; the company bore the costs not covered by the $2 admission. They could sell t-shirts and go on tour! By committee, they could write material appealing and inoffensive to everyone!

And someone will start a counter-Cabaret...

For a less interpritive scoop on Cabaret goings on, check CabaretNet: http://www.sccs.swarthmore.edu/~zadara/cabaret/one.html

This appeared in the December 8 Phoenix


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