A line 10 people deep shuffled and thrust hands into pockets waiting for the doors at the Visual Arts Collective to swing open the evening of Nov. 9. Inside, members of the Red Light Variety Show and Frim Fram 4 bustled about the stage, tugging at silks braided and suspended from the ceiling, and stocking the merchandise kiosk ahead of its winter showcase, titled Nostalgia.
For an hour, guests of the pay-what-you-want preview event mingled and took in the art hanging on the walls, and by the time master of ceremonies Joe Golden took the stage to deliver a rummy introduction to the night's entertainment, the aura of informality hadn't worn off, which was a coup for the troupe. If RLVS' success were to be determined exclusively on how ecstatic the audience was at the end of the night, the standing ovation, loud cheers, whistles and cat calls gave the burlesque and vaudeville troupe as sterling a grade as you can get on a report card.
A 5-minute opening cast video in the silent movie style about a peeping tom ultimately apprehended by Technical Director James Sharp set the evening's tone with a smattering of back-stage humor and wacky antics. That was followed by a striptease by Frankly Frankie, in which the leggy brunette stripped down to a g-string and pasties from an already revealing Cleopatra costume.
RLVS was at its best when it relied on tease, innuendo and humor, and its strongest performers—Frankly Frankie, Juniper Rose, James Sharp, Aayla de LaRue—are masters of the wink and come hither. Sharp and Frankie's white wedding routine, in which the pair play a bride and groom deciding on which toys and baubles to use on their wedding night, showed they belong to that rare breed of performers who see one stitch of costume as one stitch too many.
Alternately, the evening lagged where the performances were out of place in their earnestness or failed to have an object of satire. De LaRue's strip routine in a Sex Pistols T-shirt and cherry red, thigh-high leather boots was explosive and even awe-inspiring; her dance pole routine set to a downtempo cover of "House of the Rising Sun" and aerial silk performance were not. Other routines lacked horsepower, like Kelly Green's solo singing and Venus in a half-shell performances. Given Green's clear confidence in her own beauty and abilities as a performer, they were mystifyingly uninspired.
The evening ended with an exuberant picnic shared by two cross dressers, played by Jax B. Nipple and guest Dylan Hughes, and set to "Summer Dreams," in which Nipple wore a shirt screen printed with a set of chest and stomach muscles, and Hughes wore white lingerie and bloomers. As the set came to a close, the crowd lept to its feet, the performance a clear success.