Vital Joint’s venue is tiny, but the amount of pre-show audience chitchat was enormous. Most was facilitated by a a suit-donning and larger-than-life Rhinelander (more on him later), but some was organic: “Did you make that necklace” or “Hey, the bar serves beer” pleasantries were also exchanged. If there was ever a lull, our German friend was quick to fill it with a quip or suggestion that the cash-only bar is steps away. “This is experimental theater,” he said. “You’ll need a drink.”
This is all the prelude to Dandy Be Good, queer artist GJ’s storytelling cabaret now playing through January 27 at Vital Joint (109 Meserole Street) as part of Brooklyn’s Exponential Festival. Like the pre-show banter, Garlan Jude (GJ)’s show fosters community and togetherness. They lip sync to songs from Judy Garland (a fun reversal on the performer’s name?) and interviews from socialite women of yore. But GJ doesn’t hog the stage — they share it with a trio of guest performers: a vaudevillian-reminiscent actress, a consummate orator, and — yes — our chatty German pal.
The introduction of other voices helps diversify the cabaret — GJ wisely employs various artists to break and spice up the event — but they do detract from the overarching story, if there is any. The intimate setting is a fitting venue for shared tales, but most felt unrelated and nonlinear, making any sense of continuity foggy as a prolonged night at a hookah bar.
Still, GJ’s charm shines. They make a warm and sultry presence — think a young Joel Grey, but with a fabulous violet wig — and their energy propels the show even as certain tales taper. Assisting GJ along the way are Sarah Rosengarten as Vickie Gumdrops, a Ringling carney and Chicago chorus girl hybrid, and Teresa Braun as Peter Funk, the gregarious German who is apparently running for president in 2020. Despite frequent and odd interactions with the audience, Braun never loses character, delivers an impeccable accent, and — quite frankly — adds to the show’s weirdness.
But it’s special guest Glace Chase who is the all-too-short highlight of the evening. Raspy-voiced and fishnetted, Glace debuts halfway through and spins a show-stopping and time-warping yarn about a queer man’s lust that may or may not have sunk the Titanic. It’s hard to go into more detail — the story unfolds with genius crafts-wo-manship, reimagining the final moments of horny, wireless telegraphist Jack Phillips — but let’s just say Thomas Andrews wasn’t only mounting an iceberg on that fateful night. (The next installment of the story involves Sylvia Plath, and Glace please at me with further details because I’m hooked).
But Glace’s tale won’t be heard at the next performance of Dandy Be Good; each show has a unique guest star. This adds to the show’s spontaneity, lackluster as it may sometimes be, but such brief performances are just another hidden gem in the Exponential Festival’s weird-ass box of chocolates.
Dandy Be Good, Jan 24-27 @ 8pm, RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org