Presented by The Slaughterhouse Society
Review by Gillian Daniels
CONTENT WARNING: Psychosexual camp with some abuse and violence for good measure.
(Cambridge, MA) Maybe it’s the number of expertly dressed femme fatales and smart suited gentleman villains in the rogue gallery. Maybe it’s just the spandex. All the same, Batman’s unique blended history of pulp, humor, and darkness puts it at the same cross-section of camp and psychosexual horror in which Boston’s happily weird burlesque scene specializes. The Slaughterhouse Society makes sure burlesque and Batman are a match made in vaudeville variety show heaven.
A Dark Knight in the Asylum is crafted for the Batman-casual fan looking to watch Poison Ivy (here, the magnetic Fem Bones) kiss and enslave her lackies but it also has easter eggs and references for the die hard fanatic who will be all too delighted to watch lesser-known villain Man-Bat (Alex Jackson) get his day in the sun.
The show coheres wonderfully around a frame narrative where Commissioner Gordon (Karin Webb), with a look that takes its inspiration from The Dark Knight (2008), and Batgirl (Kimmy Moore), who has the costume of here 1960’s counterpart and the upstanding aura of a girl scout in over her head, are taken on a tour through Gotham Asylum. Their guide is the mysterious Dr. Hugo Strange (Mary Widow). Each inmate on the doctor’s list performs an act, ranging from the delightfully quirky Riddler (Michael Geary), who twists and shimmies to sound bites of Jim Carey’s hammy performance in Batman Forever (1995), to the polished, explosive tango-turned-fight between Catwoman (Simone de Boudoir) and Batman (Dark N’ Stormy).
Fem Bones’ Poison Ivy bursts forth from a silk flower with venus fly traps on her hips. She’s stunning and, as soon as her performance began, I realized this was a show not just here to capitalize on the Caped Crusader’s popularity but to play with the mythology and explore the aesthetic. In her first act, Fem Bones utilizes those well-known vines to ensnare a shirtless Nightwing (again, Alex Jackson), the sight of which gave me Feelings with a capital “F.” It’s very good and very fun and very much for adults.
I’m not the objective critic that I would like to be, here. My venn diagram of overlapping interests for this show is a circle. I fell in love with Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995) at five-years old. Even as a child, I was deeply affected by the confident, gorgeous thieves and charming but cruel masterminds. I was a dork for caped crusaders from a young age. As an adult, my appreciation has changed but it hasn’t wavered. The BDSM and often queer subtext of catsuits and poison lipstick melts perfectly into the Boston burlesque wheelhouse.
Watching The Penguin (Sherman) flaunt it with complete confidence? Seeing Victor Zsasz (Dahlia Strack) in all their grim, creepy glory? Seeing Harley Quinn (Maggie Maraschino) not only break up with the Joker (Complete Destruction) but make-out with Poison Ivy? And Man-Bat on those aerial silks?
I was there for Man-Bat. And he’s great.
But I can say there were moments and mask slips that didn’t seem terribly planned. I can also say that, while I adored the tone change for the second half of the show from camp bleak to joyfully grimdark, the jump scares neither scared me nor made me jump.
Also, one of the biggest strengths of Oberon can be one of its biggest inconveniences: the stage. The performers are given free range to move within the audience and multiple staging locations. This is great for versatile storytelling. Unfortunately, it means that there are some acts I could only catch in glimpses through the enthusiastic heads of the sold-out show.
If Oberon were to, say, extend this show for another couple performances beyond Friday, it certainly has its audience. Hell, the combination of sexy costumes and camp work so well, I’d be honestly interested in a Deadpool-themed burlesque. Maybe even the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole, which may not have the delightful goth edge of Batman, but has more than a few great burlesque ideas baked into the catsuits of Black Widow, Gamora, and Black Panther. (Please, Oberon? For me? Your adoring, dorky audience?)
The Slaughterhouse Society went out bravely and boldly on this one. The use of gymnastics, aerial silks, skin reveals, and choreographed fighting is knit together so well, it makes it clear the superhero genre and burlesque theater are all too happy to share the stage together.