The Red Light District Variety Show features a mix of regular actors, comedians and special guest performers and musicans. The stage at Le Chat Noir represents a Catholic school room. There's an alphabet in cursive script, sundry saints' pictures, posters hailing God's Army and similar inspirational paraphernalia. In short, the forces of the superego are arrayed like siege engines ready to subdue restive young minds.
Into this draconian realm steps an attractive young brunette in high-heeled silver boots. She picks up a piece of chalk and writes on the green board: "The Flying Pelvises Present a Dream Ballet." Yes, Doctor Freud, the id is striking back. And you ain't seen nothing yet.
Now, I have to warn you, the psychological subversion I just described may not be how The Red Light District Variety Show starts the night you see it. After all, the show is a late-night cabaret and makes do with the scenery from whatever the early show is. When I saw Red Light, the early show featured Amanda Hebert as our favorite holy terror, Sister. The babe in boots had invaded the nun's classroom.
While Red Light certainly smacks of "the revenge of the id," it brings to mind the Weimar Republic more than Vienna. The salty, satirical revue turns a jaundiced eye on local politics and gives an acidic, uncensored tongue to civic disgust.
This shoot-from-the-hip style was a hit with the large crowd that filled Le Chat for the performance I attended. The patrons don't merely laugh, they cheer on the raillery. Ray Nagin is all but roasted alive. Sometimes, in fact, Nagin's name is the whole punch line of a joke, or -- keeping with the low-down vernacular of the piece -- hizzoner's cognomen gets intensified to "Effin'" Nagin.
Most of Red Light, however, is more about humor than anger. Local Playwright Jim Fitzmorris, who has given us many and varied dramas over the years, emcees the presentation. He sits off to one side of the stage and reads jokes from little cards with the wry aplomb of a late-night TV host. He also introduces the acts.
When it comes to the acts, "variety" is an understatement. It's odd to listen to a string of quips that poke fun at the status quo and then watch lovely Trixie Minx enter on point to do a striptease. We all know that "staying on message" has become political jargon, but "staying on point"? With pasties? Like I say, one gets a whiff of Weimar and the disillusioned decadence of Germany between the wars. But let's hope the similarity stops there.
Anyway, Ms. Minx did two numbers, both agreeably naughty, but neither likely to cause a protest march by outraged feminists. Another one of the acts was Hot Pot Spectacle, young musicians who didn't feel compelled to blow our eardrums out. Also, Joan Spraggins, who recently stopped the show and many hearts (including mine) in One Mo' Time, sang two numbers from that show, accompanied by Alan Payne on the electric piano.
Along the way, we get a potpourri of amusing skits, like Sean Patterson reading the 10 best slogans for the Corps of Engineers and a pseudo news cast by WWNO's James Arey and his not-so-live-on-Bourbon-Street reporter Farrar Hudkins.
Other genial players often include Evan Prizant, Julie Faust and Cammie West. The material was penned by Aime Hayes, who also directs, and Rudy Vorkapic along with Fitzmorris and Patterson. Bud Faust gets the laurels as head writer.
At one point toward the end of the evening, Fitzmorris put down his stack of jokes and came out of his corner -- like a contender who intended to take the pundit crown by knockout. No more Mr. Light-and-Lively. No more Mr. Nice Guy. Fitzmorris, after all, is the scion of a political dynasty. Several of his most compelling plays are inside views of the electoral jungle. So, laying aside the easygoing jokes, he analyzed the local political scene -- particularly the surprising re-elections of Nagin and Jefferson -- in practical, chilling Machiavellian terms.
I can't say if he takes on the same subject at each performance. Or if he ranges hither and yon -- which raises the question of how much the show varies from night to night. I'm told it varies considerably. This seems to be, in fact, one of its strengths as well as one of its weaknesses. Red Light is not merely a grab bag but a somewhat messy grab bag -- never all that far from improvisation. For instance, the show I saw opened with a weird sequence that I didn't like or understand. But, I heard later that the sequence had been thrown together quickly at the last minute.
If you want a polished gem, The Red Light District Variety Show is not your thing. But if you want something lively and unpredictable, maybe it is.