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Monday, April 4, 2011

Thrillpeddlers Turns in Wild, Lusty Performance as Pearls Over Shanghai Nears Its End (NSFW)

Posted on Mon, Apr 4, 2011 at 8:00 AM

Mother Fu (played by director Russell Blackwood) holds court as a sailor (Gianni Michael Lyle) sings. - KEITH BOWERS
  • Keith Bowers
  • Mother Fu (played by director Russell Blackwood) holds court as a sailor (Gianni Michael Lyle) sings.

"Unapologetic depravity." One of our theater critics used the phrase to describe Pearls Over Shanghai. The words encompass not only the musical, but also the troupe performing it Saturday night (Thrillpeddlers), the theater-of-the-absurd troupe that wrote it (the Cockettes), and San Francisco itself.

The plot of Pearls is manifold but almost irrelevant. A villain called Madam Gin Sling wants to enslave three American virgins named Delightful, Deluxe, and Delicious. Chang is the madam's Film Noir sidekick gangster, and his sidekick is Red Dragon. Sebastian is in love with a Russian singer named Petrushka, who's tangled up with Chang. Captain Eddy wants to rescue the virgins; he's in love with Lili Frustrata, but he can't marry her. Mother Fu is a woman who's been around the block and has her own cast of minions. There are sexy sailors, whores, handmaidens, and angels, all of whom appear in various states of dress and undress. (Here's your NSFW warning.) There's a two-headed baby. It's all an excuse to perform songs with outrageously funny lyrics while wearing costumes that would make a Las Vegas choreographer's jaw drop.

Thrillpeddlers says goodbye next weekend to Pearls, which has run nearly two years. Yet the company won't bid farewell to the Cockettes, as its next production is Vice Palace, another musical written by the troupe. We hear that Vice Palace is loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe's The Masque of the Red Death, and the Thrillpeddlers adaptation incorporates aspects of the early 1960s films of Federico Fellini. It sounds ridiculous -- as the Cockettes would surely applaud.

KEITH BOWERS
  • Keith Bowers

Scrumbly Koldewyn was one of the founding members of the Cockettes and wrote the music to Pearls Over Shanghai. Scrumbly played the character of Ilsa, providing piano accompaniment throughout the show Saturday night.

KEITH BOWERS
  • Keith Bowers

Lili Frustrata (Eric Tyson Wertz) sings "Apples and Won Ton." Little does she know, she's headed for heartbreak in the form of Captain Eddy.

KEITH BOWERS
  • Keith Bowers

Sebastian (Gabriel A. Ross) kisses the feet of Petrushka (Veronica Klaus), who sings "Jaded Lady." Klaus also had a moving solo number late in the play, "I Can't Stop Wandering."

KEITH BOWERS
  • Keith Bowers

Two lucky (or, at least, masochistic) audience members got the riding-crop treatment from Nancy French, who played Lottie Wu. Before the show, Scrumbly Koldewyn told the audience it was customary at Cockettes' productions for members of the audience to participate in the play somehow, oftentimes after disrobing. "And that was before the drugs kicked in," she said.

KEITH BOWERS
  • Keith Bowers

The second of Nancy French's victims was a man celebrating his 50th birthday. French delivered 50 whacks with the riding crop, having the audience count along.

KEITH BOWERS
  • Keith Bowers

Lottie Wu (Nancy French) sings "Jaded Hussy" while Hank (Kai Brothers) provides visual stimulus.

KEITH BOWERS
  • Keith Bowers

The same group of actresses played whores, handmaidens, angels, and lotus dancers. Here they look on as evil Madam Gin Sling vows to take the Wobblin' Robin Sisters -- all virgins, all American -- into her house of ill repute.

KEITH BOWERS
  • Keith Bowers

Madam Gin Sling (Kim Larsen) explains to her captives -- The Wobblin' Robin Sisters, Delightful, Deluxe and Delicious -- what fate awaits them. Little does she know, they'll embrace the life of sin and be happy in the sex trade. It's pure Cockettes.

KEITH BOWERS
  • Keith Bowers

Delightful (Adeola Role), Deluxe (Birdie-Bob Watt), and Delicious (Miss Sheldra) are in quite a bind. Madam Gin Sling has ordered their panties removed in preparation for the taking of their virginity.

KEITH BOWERS
  • Keith Bowers

Captain Eddy (Flynn De Marco) protects his relevant parts from Mother Fu, who earlier in the show sang her intention to "find the man who'll do" in "Cruising." De Marco got tremendous laughs Saturday night with nearly every line he spoke, and often by mere gestures such as showing his profile in dramatic fashion while flashing his neon-white smile.

KEITH BOWERS
  • Keith Bowers

WuWu (Fennel Skellyman) led the cast in "Opium," one of the night's strongest numbers. WuWu climbed into the audience, illuminated by red light.

KEITH BOWERS
  • Keith Bowers

After the cast members took their individual curtain calls, director Russell Blackwood (right) called out two of his best performers: Nancy French (center), whose final night with Thrillpeddlers was Saturday after being part of the company for 16 years, and Flynn De Marco, who joined the company last fall and has been a powerful addition.

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