All words: Jeb Gavin — All photos: Rachel Eisley
Thursday night’s double show of And I Am Not Lying, who bill themselves as a comedy-burlesque-storytelling sideshow, was almost entirely storytelling, with bits of comedy and burlesque thrown in for good measure. Actually, considering the original point of burlesque was the ridicule of serious subjects, occasionally featuring striptease, it could be said the comedic but poignant stories constituted an excellent example of true burlesque, which has in recent years been reduced to pop acts getting naked with little art or flair.
The later show, scheduled for 10PM, started on the Backstage of the Black Cat just around 10:40 with MC Jeff Simmermon explaining how the troupe was on a tour after being relieved of residency at Brooklyn’s Union Hall. His tale, really the only sideshow aspect of the whole evening, detailed an act featuring a man without arms singing the National Anthem and other Americana while his fiance did a naked handstand in front of him. Apparently the kicker of brief genital-oral contact forced everyone’s hand, and now they’re on tour.
First up was Cherry Pitz, the nom de guerre of Cyndi Freeman, dressed as a Junior League matron complete with pearls and white gloves. While she is both beautiful and talented, it was more interesting to watch the audience, who presumed the evening would be more of an artistic strip club rather than an evening of monologues. During Ms. Pitz performance, couples made out in the back of the room and groped one another almost discretely. She was followed by her husband, Brad Lawrence, a comedian with more of a monologist’s temperament, telling an A Christmas Story-like yarn of being bullied on the bus to school. I only point out his act was more monologue than comedy set because his
pauses and self-interruptions were a little too practiced, even though the story was quite funny.
In contrast, S.M. Shrake regaled the audience with a story of his collection of Barbra Streisand memorabilia, and the simultaneously heart warming and heart breaking way this informed his relationship with his father. This was Shrake’s only contribution to the show, but I found it was of the most beautiful and well told stories of the night. Equally compelling, though for entirely different reasons, was performer Amelia Bareparts strip-pantomime recounting of Amelia Earhart’s final flight. Later she reappeared, dancing to Duran Duran’s girls on film, doing a fan dance with clap boards and peeling off celluloid bra and panties to reveal black censored bars instead of pasties.
Brad Lawrence also returned with a discussion of his first experiences with Showtime’s late night programming and his high school weight loss. But it was Jeff Simmermon’s recollections of his first job out of college (playing a gingerbread man in a play intended on interesting small children in the arts), and his work in an art rock band featuring not one but two keyboard “playing” chickens that struck me as the best stories of the night. Simmermon’s cadence and honesty about his own life reminded me of a more theatrically minded Louis CK, schlemazel to his own schlemiel.
The last bit of the night was Cyndi Freeman, stripped first of her Cherry Pitz persona, explaining how she became a burlesque dancer. Her explanation of NOT having breast cancer, and all the things she does to celebrate, was at once both extremely breast-positive, and yet wholly unsexy. At least until she got naked at the end. Her tale perfectly encapsulated the point of the evening, and at least the initial purpose of burlesque: performers baring all with humor and heart, at least emotionally. The nudity just turned out to be cherries on the cheesecake.