Amid Boston Overdose Crisis, a Pair of Harvard Students Are Bringing Narcan to the Red Line


At First Cambridge City Council Election Forum, Candidates Clash Over Building Emissions


Harvard’s Updated Sustainability Plan Garners Optimistic Responses from Student Climate Activists


‘Sunroof’ Singer Nicky Youre Lights Up Harvard Yard at Crimson Jam


‘The Architect of the Whole Plan’: Harvard Law Graduate Ken Chesebro’s Path to Jan. 6

Syphilitic Vaudeville

The London Madhouse Company Wild Stunt Show The Banananoff Bunch Young Country All at the Charles Playhouse & Cabaret Thru October

By Ta-kuang Chang

WHISPERING DIRTY WORDS in a girl's ear is one of the fool-proof secrets for driving a chick crazy offered by that cultural curiousity, How To Pick Up Girls. And plenty of good advice, too--if we judge by the audience of the London Madhouse Stunt Show last Sunday night--an audience that was reduced to a malleable jelly of shrieking girls by what seemed to be one endless train of obscenities, phallic jokes and frontal nudity.

"You have to be in the mood for it" might be one caveat for the show. But a more appropriate one would be "You have to be below sixteen or above thirty-five, come from a strict up-bringing and not be going to college." We can easily visualize matronly ladies who come paying high theater prices expecting to see a play, who are shocked and involuntarily titillated by the uninhibited use of words they have only read in print and even then disguised by asterisks. But for a generation of college students nurtured on National Lampoon, Lenny Bruce and Cheech & Chong, The London Madhouse Company despite all the hyperbolic publicity, will seem quite tame and a bit on the dreary side.

Obscenities do not have the same power among college students as they have in ordinary life. Constant use, frequently in playful and affectionate circumstances, have emasculated them of any dark, taboo properties they might once have had. Pauline Kael has observed that college students really cannot conceive of the vicious injury inflicted when they as demonstrators taunt policemen and National Guardsmen with the casual obscenities of the collegiate vocabulary. They do not realize that for most people these obscenities are still functional weapons.

THE WILD STUNT SHOW is a heroic attempt to revive that much forgotten American art form--the vaudeville revue. When popular country singers warble about romantic "onenight-stands" we tend to forget that they are talking about those makeshift, vulgar, amateurish debacles played in cheap downtown auditoriums that we, growing up in the days of its decline, have come to associate with the word vaudeville. We tend to forget, too, that such modern idols as the Marx Brothers and Jack Benny all started like that, painfully and miserably, travelling on second-class night coach, starving and playing to jeering audiences in remote Midwestern ghosttowns. Vaudeville was the brutally hard world in which many older screen comedy celebrities cut their teeth.

The London Madhouse Company of course has no such tear-jerking Horatio Alger story. It was marketed from the start by the slick professional Playbillpublicity machine, and it has in fact played with phenomenal success in several countries. Still as we watch the red-faced clownish musician attempting to play a dozen battered instruments taped around a bedframe, we can recapture some of the extemporaneous, frantically amateurish flavour of a uniquely American institution that traces its origins to the days of Mr. Bones and Mr. Tambo.

Its attempt to revive the old revue format is noble, but the material for the Wild Stunt Show is simply atrocious. The jokes are so trite, so moldy and artless that we wonder whether they are purposely so in order to heighten the nostalgic values. They either fall into the category of the travelling salesman and farmer's daughter, or into the category of stupid. All are repetitious. There are some notable gimmicks, but to reveal them here would be to deprive them of any possible humor they might have had, because they are just that, substanceless gimmicks.

But you can't see vaudeville anywhere else. And despite the pulpy content, the from is there, and the medium is the message.

* * *

THE BANANANOFF BUNCH is a sanitized version of the Wild Stunt Show played on weekend afternoons for children. The body and set-up of the dirty jokes are still there--the banana and weiner routines for example--but robbed of their off-color punchlines, they hang tantalizingly like dangling participles.

Young Country is a bicentennial musical for children with an execrable script, quite good songs and a very competent cast from Boston area high schools. Richard Williams steals the show as a foppish John Hancock (who just adored the Tea Party); Roger Kabler seems destined to be the next Tatum O'Neal and sings louder than anyone else in the cast; and the play boasts in the title role of Paul Reverse the son of Governor Dukakis.

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.