Recently the husband and I, with grand-parental intervention, stepped out for a night on the town. Alone.
A friend of ours was having a comedy show at a local venue and we were prepared to go and laugh until our sides fell off, have a few pricy beers and partake in conversations that didn't hinge on inquisitive primates, purple dinosaurs or colossal red dogs.
We made our way to the address we'd been given and found the Basilica Industria, a former knitting mill-turned-performance space along the Hudson waterfront. Since we don't get out much, it should go without saying that we were beyond early. On this evening, however, we expected to be right on time.
"I thought his e-mail said 8 o'clock," I say as we arrived to a hive of behind-the-scenes activity. Tattooed women and ponytailed men were busily performing sound and lighting checks. Some were still setting up chairs. A tall, lanky man wearing a full-length blue leotard, spangled rabbit ears and eight-inch stiletto heels was roaming amid the chaos.
"At least we have the right place," I say.
We go and find someone to take our money and realize our second surprise of the evening.
"Fifty bucks! I thought this show was supposed to be $15 apiece." No matter, I'd gotten the time wrong I'd probably misread the ticket price, too.
We hand over the cash and staked claim to two seats on a dais facing the stages. While he goes to get two brews from the concessions, I peruse the flyers on the cabaret table in front of me.
"No wonder everything's wrong," I say when he returns. "He's not performing until next week."
I can see a game of rock, paper, scissors forming in his head -- the winner of which will sit and finish their beer while the loser goes off to try and get back our picture of Ulysses S. Grant -- when more of a crowd trickles in.
"Pssst. Excuse me, sir?" I ask of a man who plunks himself down next to us. "It seems as if my husband and I are accidental hipsters tonight. What are we about to see?"
"Oh, dear friends, you have bought yourself a ticket to the other greatest show on Earth. You, my dears, are in for an evening of revelation and rejuvenation. Amazements the likes of which you've never seen before await you. (Cue echo chamber:) This is the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus.
(Actually the man said, "Oh, it's a really a cool circus act or something," but since we had decided the better part of valor would be to stick around, I amended the description when it turned out he had, in fact, undersold it.)
When the lights finally went down, a hobo clown trudged into the audience to bum a smoke. I knew right away from the expression on his face -- a fluid, indescribable look that marks a good actor even when he doesn't speak -- that this wasn't going to be amateur night.
Co-founder Keith Nelson's Kinko the clown moved imperceptibly from what at first appeared to be stiff and awkward attempts at slinging cigar boxes to a masterful display of diabolo juggling during his lengthy performance. Later, as Mr. Pennygaff, Nelson swallows swords in a display so terrifying I could barely watch.
About a dozen equally skilled performers added more astonishing feats to the bawdy act.
Ringleader Philomena, the troupe’s other founder Stephanie Monseu, in addition to her role as MC, swallows fire and gives school marm a new definition -- two things that I think should make her a shoe-in for public education should she grow weary of this particular circus of the bizarre.
More glitter follows as aerialist Una Mimnagh hurls herself from a trapeze dangling only a few yards from the stage, and is caught midway by a rope she'd curled around her torso; a burlesque troupe out of Albany, The Lipstick Lovelies, gyrate lasciviously as the laughs continue; Una returned to share the limelight with cowboy Angelo Iodice, and their dueling bolos routine ricochets in unison against the hollow stage to the delight of the crowd; and the aforementioned rabbit -- Scotty the Blue Bunny -- who as it turns out plays violin, did whatever it is that homosexual turquoise bunnies do best under the glare of a spotlight. All of which was accompanied (or orchestrated, not sure) by The Amazing Sxip, (pronounced "Skip") billed as a one-man Mutant Harmonica band.
When the lights came back up and we made our way to our car, suffice it to say I actually felt good about being parted from my money.
I know we all want to get something for nothing, and this particular raucous cup of tea isn't for everyone, but it reminded me how distanced we are from the real magic of entertainment.
We shell out comparable amounts of money for Hollywood special effects and larger-than life celebrities smoothed by gel filters, and in doing so, without even knowing it, we lose an understanding of what real talent looks like on a human scale. To be reminded seemed a bargain at twice the price.
Variety, after all, is the spice of life.