Come to the Cabaret 

The Firehouse takes a risk that rewards with sizzle and magic.

Under the direction of Jenny Hundley, the show is brilliantly conceived and executed. It begins with a short monologue from the “Waitress,” (Amanda Durst). It soon turns into a steamy rendition of Dave Frishberg’s “Peel Me a Grape.” Three men (Larry Cook, Theodore M. Snead, and Scott Wichmann) act out many of the lines in the song, pampering the waitress with romance, wine and jewels. The tone of the entire evening is established when Wichmann has trouble peeling a grape, then pops it in his mouth when he thinks no one’s looking.

The show includes five plays at about 10 minutes each. Jeffrey Sweet’s “Cover” is one of the best 10-minute plays ever written. Using taut but funny dialogue, Sweet turns the direction of the story several times within 10 minutes and still has time to ask important ethical questions.

Romulus Linney’s “Stars” is an encounter between two not-so-nice people. The script reads beautifully on the page but here, in performance, it’s a touch too convoluted.

Local playwright Martha Hill Newell’s “Dogs and Other Actors” is a spoof of “Pygmalion.” The performances of Wichmann and Erin Thomas as a dog and a cat are what make this play . Thomas, in particular, has managed to synthesize an incredible number of feline mannerisms into her sexy characterization of an actress-cat.

Robb Badlam’s “Guys” and Jeffrey Sweet’s “Hurt” are lighthearted takes on romance. The cast gets the most out of the witty jokes in the two scripts.

There’s a musical-dramatic passage in the second act called “Rt. 12/At Last.” It’s listed in the program as taking place in 1957 Miami, but it could be almost any nightclub at almost any time. Without dialogue, the entire scene takes place to the accompaniment of music. The maitre’d (Wichmann) takes notice when a woman (Thomas) enters the club. She sits down at a table and soon meets another patron (Snead). The maitre’d informs a man (Cook) that the woman is in the club. There’s clearly a volatile history between the man and the woman. The conflict soon revolves itself into a sultry dance and then even more conflict.

This is the kind of transformative moment that keeps me coming back to theater. In any single season, you can only hope for only one or two magical moments when everything comes together perfectly. This is one of them. Hundley and company have concocted the ultimate night out. Don’t miss it. S

“The Firehouse Cabaret” continues through May 16 at the Firehouse Theatre, 1609 W. Broad St. Tickets cost $20, call 355-2001.

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