Russell Blackwood’s “Thrillpeddlers” is a unique San Francisco institution. This bizarre but talented and enthusiastic troupe of amateur and professional performers is eccentric in the extreme, specializing in revivals of the “Theatre of the Ridiculous” (mostly, but not exclusively, focussing on works by The Cockettes), and original work in the tradition of Grand Guignol. If the goods are rather odd, and the quality often uneven, you can, nevertheless, always be assurred of something different, sparkling, and over-the-top. Blackwood means to celebrate a time in our San Francisco history (the relatively innocent 1970s, before AIDs, before the assassinations of Moscone and Milk, before the horror of Jonestown, before the cultural appropriation by the Marina bros) when ridiculous counter-cultural shenanigans were the order of the day, and a revolution fueled by glitter not guns seemed not only possible but happening.
The current revival of the glam-rock musical, “Club Inferno,” is fairly typical, although not as enjoyable as previous revivals of work by The Cockettes. The premise here is that an unfortunate night club performer (Dante, of course) has been electrocuted before it is her time to die. She therefore has an opportunity to escape Hell by traveling through its various circles to return to her earthly life. Each circle features a damned diva, ranging widely from rock stars to Judy Garland. My favorite sequence involved a duet between Mama Cass and Karen Carpenter. (Does that sound both tastless and funny? Damn right.)
About halfway through the performance, my companion turned to me to ask, “What the fuck is this?” At intermission, he complained, “I just don’t get it.” A helpful lady across the aisle leaned forward and said, “Honey, it’s SUPPOSED to be trashy. Don’t expect so much — have fun.” At the end of the evening, my friend told me, “I thought this was awful until that lady explained it to me. Then I could let my hair down and enjoy it!”
So, that pretty much sums it up. On a scale of one to ten the artistic excellence of “Club Inferno” is not going to break into multiples of two — but if you take it for it’s trashy worth, let your hair down and just have fun, you’ll probably have a fine time.
And I dare you not to get a kick out of Birdie-Bob Watt’s off-the-wall comedic turn as Dante’s guide, Xaron. As always, Watt is an expert performer of all things ridiculous.
“Club Inferno” continues at The Hypnodrome through August 8, 2015. For further information click here.
“Cafe Inferno” by Kelly Kittel with music & lyrics by Peter Fogel, additional material, musical direction and arrangements by Birdie-Bob Watt. Director: Russell Blackwood. Choreography: Marilynn Fowler.
Cast: Peggy L’Eggs, John Flaw, Birdie-Bob Watt, Noah Haydon, Leigh Crow, Zelda Kosnofsky, David Bicha, Barney Ford, Lisa McHenry, Amber Sommerfeld, Carol Ann Walker, Crystal Why, Diogo Zavadzki, Jason Wade, Owen Asdell, Tommy Salami, Tim Purdue and Steve Bolinger.
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