The Performant: Vice squad


The Thrillpeddlers take on Poe, plague, and poop

In Edgar Allan Poe’s grisly tale The Masque of the Red Death, a group of wealthy nobles hole up in a fortified abbey to avoid the ravages of a mysterious ailment sweeping the countryside, which causes its victims to sweat blood and keel over dead in the streets. 

Led by their host, Prince Prospero, they gather beneath his roof and weld the gates shut against the outside world, availing themselves of the comforts he provides: food, wine, and “all the appliances of pleasure”. Six months into their isolation the Prince arranges a masquerade ball, a gala affair that fills seven rooms, each decorated in a different color. In his zeal to describe at length how each room even boasted windowglass the color of the décor, and how the partiers were costumed with “much glare and glitter and piquancy and phantasm,” Poe neglects to describe much of the evening’s entertainment. 

Fortunately for the curious, the gender-bending, genre-blending ensemble The Cockettes decided to reimagine the spectacle in their final show, Vice Palace, now being revived by the Thrillpeddlers in their way-off-market digs, the Hypnodrome.

As grotesque and depraved as Poe must have imagined the desperate pastimes of the filthy rich to be, it’s my guess that he wouldn’t have come up with entertainments half as perverse as those showcased in Vice Palace

Wrangled into place by flamboyant, fabulously-coiffed hostess Divina (Leigh Crow) and her crop-wielding, high-bosomed secretary Bella (Eric Tyson Wertz), the entertainers went right for the gusto early in the “yellow room” with a buxom burlesque dancer (Tina Sogliuzzo) and a ribald ditty about a camel’s hump(s) performed by dishy tattooed “boy toys” Steven Satyricon and Joshua Devore (the artist formally known as Tober Brandt). 

Next followed a lascivious ode to tantric sex, a bawdy, bloody ballad about Caligula, a Cockettes classic “A Crab on Uranus (Means You’re Loved),” and a sweetly-sung solo performed by Birdie-Bob Watt as Vagina Dentata about her life as a floating turd. Incidentally, this last song included a “scat break”. Of course it did! But even this paled in comparison to the titillating, wordless “Flesh Ballet” performed by an acrobatic (and totally nekkid) Ste Fishell.

The greatest thrill of the production is watching how easily the company weds their long-standing focus on the Grand Guignol with their more recent forays into Theatre of the Ridiculous territory in a single piece. Incorporating all of the gratuitous violence and bloodshed of the former, with the audacious camp of the latter, this show provides a quick and dirty primer on their longstanding love affairs with both. Blood, babes, beefy love slaves, boss wigs, striking black-and-white costumes (designed by Kara Emry), creepy blood effects (Rob Fletcher), and terrific tunes (Richard “Scrumbly” Koldewyn): this charming little anti-musical has something in it for everyone, with the possible exception of Poe. But he’s dead. 


Vice Palace: The Last Cockette Musical

Through July 31, $20-35

The Hypnodrome

575 10th St., SF

(415) 377-4202


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