“What I love is the taste of transience on the tongue, every year might be the last.” In that quote, German film and theater actor and director Max Reinhardt was speaking about the fragile Weimar Republic.
And if you’ve ever wondered what Weimar-like transience felt like, it is on full display in Tingle Tangle, now being produced by Theater Ninjas. The Weimar Republic existed in Germany like a fragile flower between the two 20th Century World Wars. And for a brief moment, the arts that flourished in that time were rather astounding in their candor and confrontation.
In this production, conceived by Ray Caspio and directed by Jeremy Paul, the audience is swept back to that time when Germans partied hearty and gleefully trampled established cultural boundaries. The cabarets that popped up after WWI often featured nudity and acts loaded with sexual innuendo.
The material in this variety show of songs and vignettes is all-American, however, touching on various personal remembrances of the cast members dealing with gender identity and sex. It is unabashed, unapologetic and often uproariously hilarious.
Caspio, gay and married, talks about his personal journey and current conflicts, since he lives in Ohio, a state that doesn’t recognize his loving relationship. A talented and riveting performer, Caspio uses his lean body to great effect whether delivering his monologues or just moving and dancing in place on the small stage. And his second act schtick as the aged and bigoted Uncle Toots, a character Caspio initially created on YouTube, is a flat-out hoot.
He is supported by five other actors and live accompaniment provided by Eric M. C. Gonzalez. One standout in the company is Amy Schwabauer, who does a spot-on rendition of a high school coach teaching a sex education class, employing a witty mixture of flaming ignorance and an earnest desire to communicate. Schwabauer is also excellent in her personal reminiscence about her, um, adventurous sex life.
The other performers include Katie Beck, Valerie C. Kilmer, Dan Rand, and Ryan Lucas, who each have their moments as Tingle Tangle weaves its own spell of frank honesty and simmering rage at the absurdities of society today.
Sure, there are some bits that don’t exactly work, and the singing of some of the period songs is more often off-key than on. But this all fits the raw and gritty vibe that the show is shooting for. By not taking itself seriously, the show lowers barriers and compels the audience to take some of the issues raised very seriously.
It is all staged in the basement of the Guide to Kulchur bookstore, owned by the esteemed poet RA Washington, and it is the perfect space. Tucked into a corner and surrounded by books, it feels as if you’ve been let into a secret club that requires a password to enter.
The small venue means only about 40 people can experience this remarkable show at any one time. So don’t tarry. If you’re in the mood for a fascinating trip that will have you laughing out loud multiple times, get a zesty taste of gender and sexual transience in Tingle Tangle.
Tingle Tangle runs through November 15, produced by Theater Ninjas at the Guide to Kulchur bookstore, 1386 W. 65th St., www.theaterninjas.com.