“Showgirls” live and on stage—directions and all
The unintentionally campy stripper film “Showgirls” has been a gay cult classic since it hit the silver screen in 1995. The combination of painfully stilted dialogue, flashy sequined costumes, and characters who possess absolutely no morally redeeming values whatsoever appeals to the gay sensibility. It also begs to be parodied. The talented players at Upright Citizens Brigade Theater rise to the challenge with “Showgirls: The Best Movie Ever Made. Ever!”
A seasoned cast takes on “Showgirls” by dividing the performance into live action portrayal of some of the film’s classic scenes, showing footage, and providing a running commentary by the show’s writer Jackie Flynn Clarke, an adjunct professor of film and gender studies at Queens Community College. Clarke sports a curly wig, neck brace, and hoop earrings. She channels James Lipton, the comically misguided host of Bravo’s “Inside the Actor’s Studio,” referring to the characters as “stripper suffragettes,” and remarking that a lap dance scene brings to mind feminist Andrea Dworkin, “who correctly theorized that all heterosexual sex is rape.”
John Reynolds joins Clarke’s character in the role of Joe Eszterhas—a disgusting caricature of the misogynistic writer who appears onstage in unbuttoned blue jeans, filthy bathrobe, and Panama hat. Eszterhas swills beer as he talks about challenging negative, hetero, male-dominated stereotypes of women “by not changing them at all.”
It is Clarke who regards “Showgirls” as “the best movie ever,” saying “I can’t imagine a world without ‘Showgirls,’ and if you can, you should be shot in the face.” She similarly worships Eszterhas, calling him “a friend to women” even in the face of comments like “you don’t pay Joe Eszterhas $2 million and not get a rape scene.”
Clarke is assisted by her fey “husband” John Flynn, who reads the film’s original stage directions aloud in one of the shows’ most inspired turns. In the lap dance scene at the Cheetah Club, Flynn reads, “Nomi’s hair takes on a life of its own,” and the lead character literally twirls her hair and spins around the stage like a dervish.
The character of Crystal, played in the film by sultry Gina Gershon, is taken over by UCB alumnus Julie Brister, who is fantastic in the role. The assorted showgirls are played by men, as is the role of Molly, the stereotypical black seamstress who is the film’s only redeeming character, rewarded for this by being brutally beaten and raped by a famous singer she adores.
Blond bombshell Lennon Parham plays lead character Nomi Malone, screeching her signature line, “I’m not a whore, I’m a dancer!” and punctuating it by high-kicking the script out of her fellow actor’s hands.
Eszterhas riffs on the crucifixion imagery in the film’s “Goddess” dance number, and gets deep by deconstructing the lead character’s name, saying, “Know me; I’m alone. Subtext like that is so obvious it’s almost not subtext.”
Fans will appreciate seeing exactly how cheesy the original film directions are; on par with dialogue including, “It must be weird, not having anyone cum on you.” Even those new to the “Showgirls” cult phenomenon will find UCB’s interpretation irresistible, simultaneously appealing and appalling.