“Absinthe” – a lust cause under the big top
“Absinthe” – It’s like Cirque du Soleil, but smutty and provocative
by Bondo Wyszpolski
It’s best to begin by quoting the press release: “Inspired by the absinthe-drenched cabarets of late 19th century Europe, ‘Absinthe’ is an adult-themed cocktail of circus, comedy, burlesque and vaudeville for a 21st century audience.”
The missing key word would be raunchiness, but to continue…
“Absinthe” is built around Cirque du Soleil-quality gymnastics, with an emphasis on scantily-clad beautiful bodies. Where it sharply veers from the usual Cirque experience is in its attitude, for which we can thank the Gazillionaire, “the self-proclaimed wealthiest man in Las Vegas.” The Gazillionaire is also our host and emcee, “filthy rich and just plain filthy,” and he is accompanied by his sidekick, Daisy Dibble. She’s described as “idiotic” in the press release, which is a supreme understatement.
In short, “Absinthe” jettisons anything remotely family-friendly, only to replace it with the carnal and the crude. Class becomes crass, as if merely suggestive humor would be far too tame.
Personally speaking, shows of this nature can be entrancing, mixing in the tantalizing with the titillating. But when what can be teasingly seductive tumbles into verbal lechery then we have a different sort of experience altogether.
However, the latter has its adherents since “Absinthe” has been playing to sold-out audiences at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas for six years. There’s an appeal in being able to attend something a little naughty and “forbidden” with a deliciously tarnished reputation. Like my cohorts on the evening I attended, I threw back the requisite drinks beforehand and staggered into the confines of Spiegelworld’s tent with befogged eyes. But that doesn’t mean I left my sensibilities behind with my empty cocktail glass.
I suppose there is a kind of coziness to the interior of the softly illuminated tent with its unique wooden folding chairs arranged in concentric circles emanating from a nine-foot-wide circular stage. Perhaps, in keeping with the late 19th century influences, a few bales of sweet-smelling hay should have been stacked just inside the entrance, with maybe a couple of tethered horses close by to at least generate the illusion that, if called upon, they could prace about for our amusement and elicit memories of Seurat’s famous circus pictures.
Even without the professionalism and grace of their performances, the talent no doubt reminded many in the audience that they should exercise a little more, as if we can exercise ourselves into a lean and hardened 25-year-old body, and a very attractive one at that. For example, the beautiful Girl in the Bubble can bend and contort into so many positions that even Gumby would be scratching his head in disbelief. Max Matterhorn seems to have traded in flesh for granite, his muscles bulging as he balances on one hand and almost makes it look easy.
There are several other acts, among them the Lost Boys, climbing up and standing on one another without breaking the neck of the guy on the bottom; the Silicone Valley Girls, whose cheerleader outfits evoke a certain popular fantasy; the Scissors in the Sky act, performed by two pretty young women in purple underwear; Misty West 88th Street, with an undulating striptease that takes it pretty far but for some maybe not far enough; Los Dos Tacos, two flying gymnasts who launch themselves from one bar to another with astonishing precision; the Twizzlers, a pair of rollerskaters (The Skates of Hell) who are all the more amazing considering the limited size of the platform they’re spinning around on. The audience in the front row is actually warned not to stand up lest their teeth be ricocheted across the room.
I wasn’t around during the 19th century, so maybe the emcee’s vulgarity, which can delight certain audiences, as noted, wasn’t so uncommon, but I did notice enough people who didn’t find the overt sexual humor to their liking. Also, the Gazillionaire likes to single out people and put them in the hot seat, so if you’re sitting too close, it’s at your own risk.
In the late 1970s, a sense of the jaded aristocrat, world-weary and bored with the luxurious life, combined with shades of Wilde’s Dorian Gray and Huysmans’ Des Esseintes, surfaced in the music of Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry, Soft Cell (remember “Tainted Love”?), David Bowie, and – my favorite – Metro’s Peter Godwin and Duncan Browne. If “Absinthe” had latched on closer to that sort of attitude, ditching the profanity, I believe they could have assembled a more appealing show. But now, at least, you know what you’re in for if you decide to go.
Absinthe is playing through May 28 in the Spiegelworld Tent at L.A. LIVE’s Event Deck, 1005 Chick Hearn Ct., Los Angeles. Performances, Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m., Sunday at 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $49. To purchase them, go to AbsintheLA.com. ER