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Review by Gillian Daniels
(Somerville) The Boston Babydolls are out for an immersive burlesque experience. The striptease doesn’t begin when the women take the stage but when the audience find the door.
Theater-goers are greeted by a street musician at the mouth of a misty alleyway and directed to the stairs. There, they may be met by Herr Bücher (Scratch, narrator and director) who is dressed with all the subtlety of Alice Cooper. Which ever guide is doing the greeting, one will be directed down the stairs to The Wrathskellar.
Transformed to feel like the “Wrathskellar” basement bars and nightclubs that originated in Germany, The Davis Square Theatre is given a particularly gothic air. The feel of the venue is engaging and amusingly bleak. Rooms have been set up to the side that audience members can explore before the show begins.
Down the stairs, the lovely ladies of the Boston Babydolls are already in full character. The Broad (Brigitte Bisoux) is ready to flirt and The Innocent (Stella Diamond) has already begun her back story. Careful viewers, while ordering their drinks at the bar, can watch Diamond be inducted into the ranks of the “despoiled women” of the show.
The Wrathskeller itself has a loose over-arching plot. It’s a yearly and popular performance by the Boston Babydolls, one used to connect a series of burlesque vignettes. Some changes have been made since last year, particularly new member Coraline Emm as The Lost Girl. The part is traditionally played by Devora Darling, who originated the “Creepy Doll” dance and one of the most memorable roles in the show, but she was unable to take part this year.
As one may be able to tell from the characters’ names, The Wrathskellar is a particularly melancholy initiation into burlesque for those coming to it for the first time. Fans looking for the variety show format typical of the original medium may be out of luck. It’s a polished show but light on comedy and cuteness. The show’s distressed mood matches the season.
The personalities of the strongest and most amusing characters, like Betty Blaize as The Countess, Evie Sphinx as The Martinet, and Miss Mina Murray as The Diva, are the cruelest. Gentler dancers like The Lost Girl and The Innocent are set up for corruption from the beginning. The gloomy trajectory of The Wrathskellar is not a surprise but the care with which its staged may be. I was not only impressed by the costumes (both off and on the characters) but with the rotating stage put together by Dana Atterbury and
Kelsey Ann Hodgins.
Despite the immersive elements, the show isn’t big on audience participation. Those looking to indulge themselves in the bar and provide unasked for commentary during the performance will likely be rebuffed by Herr Bücher and ignore. One shouldn’t have to be reminded that theater is theater regardless of the presence of pasties. Distraction is unneeded, especially when the striptease is presented with such dark, practiced flare.