Theatre Preview: Devil of a time

By Paul Jarvey

Haunting fragments of unidentifiable melody introduces Ty Semaka’s freshly resurrected brainchild, In Klezskavania. Beams of light reflect off an electric violin, slicing through the thick air of what will soon become the setting to an overwhelming menagerie of black burlesque, warped fairy tales and is-that-a-tongue-in-your-cheek-or-are-you-just-happy-to-see-me comedy.

Smoldering after a seven year sojourn since the play’s last mounting, In Klezskavania returns as a reeling drunkard alive again thanks to the sinister collaborations of One Yellow Rabbit and The Plaid Tongued Devils.

The story is that of Leo Von Tantamount’s downfall into hell, a grim Grimm style adventure taking place in the armpit of evil armpits, the mythical pimple of Eastern Europe, Klezskavania. The Plaid Tongued Devils are the house band in Leo’s Bar, a haven for stiff drinks and poor hygiene which even Satan finds impressive.

Disenchanted with his vampiric wife Penultima Arcane, his “dusty socket… the vesuvian throat,” Leo murders her as many times as he has to. He escapes to pursue Lucielle Du L’amour, an exotic dancer vaguely referencing the German spy Mata Hari. Unfortunately for him, Lucy joins forces with the vengeful hunchbacked orphan Vladimir and the master of darkness himself to throw a kink into Leo’s already kinky fantasies.

Beelzebub, played by Andy Curtis, is a hilariously awkward disco-inspired metal head on a quest for fruity drinks in the one bar serving only whisky and vodka. “I don’t want any trouble. I just want a margarita.”

Don’t be fooled, he damns people for a living. But Beelzebub still loves bodies touching to the sound of adult contemporary rock ballads and breaks into song instead of tears. Lucielle is looking for a guy who will duct tape her to the wall and get out the sandpaper. It’s a match made in hell. Of course, Beelzebub’s uncanny ability to send women to the floor in convulsions of ecstasy with a bug eyed stare probably has more to do with it than anything else.

Leo Von Tantamount’s son Lorn (Brad Payne) is an unfortunate boy whose dad calls him a Baptist suck when inviting him to his junior achievement awards ceremony. Lorn’s lucid and talented gypsy hip-hop solo in the second act is a satisfying surprise standing in stark, but refreshing contrast, to the rest of the opera.

Penultima Arcane’s (Onalea Gilbertson) performance is similarly superb. Her talented, operatic caterwauling makes her multiple deaths memorable and ridiculously gratuitous. Michael Green’s lecherous performance as Baron Leo Von Tantamount is the delectable icing of demented hyperactivity on the proverbial cake of this evil rock opera.

The play would be little without the energetic klezmer parodies of The Plaid Tongued Devils. Jonathan Lewis’ maddening brew of distorted classical and drunken gypsy violin is out of this world. He performs alongside Ty Semaka’s folk rock vocals, Alan Kolodziejzyk’s ska influenced guitar, Charles Bullough’s killer rock rhythms and Jonny Nordstrom’s ’60s jazz influenced standup and electric bass. The combination is a Dionysian brawl between genres that’s got a bite like Mike Tyson.

Don’t expect moral lessons amidst anything genuinely haunting. It’s closer to an adult version of The Adam’s Family infested by gypsy folk opera and a malignant half dozen disco balls.

While much of the play gains its humor from lewd slapstick and dirty jokes (“Quack For me! Quack. Quack. Yeah! Quack for me!”), outrageous and wonderful performances from the cast take on everything, from Vichy regime France to Freud, for an opera leaving even the staunchest conservatives tapping their feet and giggling like schoolgirls. And if it doesn’t, the devil will be sure to fuck your shit up.


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