Nelly’s club anthem bumps along the purple walls and gold-plastered ceilings in Mary’s Attic. “It’s gettin’ hot in herre, so take off all your clothes” seems fitting for a group that calls itself Democracy Burlesque. But while the name fools, the players don’t tease. The audience gets a little skin, but nothing unpalatable and nothing overtly naked (except the politics—that’s their tagline).
Democracy Burlesque is more sketch comedy than dance, more sharp wit than easy laughs. Many of the actors double as writers and directors, and that multifaceted involvement exudes a bud-to-blossom continuity throughout each sketch and the production as a whole, as if the company members all slept with each other and raised their babies at Hamburger Mary’s, divulging in free-range mini-burgers and spouting political quips left and right.
The stage manager shouts minute marks and skit titles as she flips through page after page of notes with the pianist. On the claw-post couch, an actor gestures, mutters his lips. Mitsy, Gitsy and Bitsy rehearse their approval of Glenn Beck’s online university onstage. The directors chuckle and occasionally comment. Furniture shuffles, sound levels peak, guests trickle upstairs. Pre-show jitters squeeze into the cramped wanna-be dressing room and bounce out the revealing semicircle windows onto a blustery North Clark Street.
Whether in it since the company’s 2004 inception or a Democracy Burlesque neophyte, everyone onstage and off is an obvious political pundit, with a knack for spinning contemporary politics into a mélange of relatable vignettes unified by a central theme. In this case, “November Reign” deserves local and national discussion, if through twisted, satirical and Lady Gaga fashion.
A polychromatic caterpillar interrupts a gubernatorial debate with a seriously jarring whoosh emanating from the speakers overhead and cued by a girl in green behind the little sound booth stage right. “A debate,” declares the caterpillar, “is when two people of opposing positions face off and present researched—and reasoned—arguments supporting their respective viewpoints. THIS,” shaking his head in disdain, “this is not that.” The MC follows by reading a few of the audience’s mayoral campaign slogans on an imaginative party ticket with imaginative promises but real email addresses.
The theatrical experience with Democracy Burlesque not only demands action during the show but strives to promote activism afterward: all proceeds benefit a particular charity and all attendees are, kindly, expected to vote and to tell their friends. This midterm-election show supports Change the World, One Stitch at a Time, a nonprofit that teaches knitting and crocheting skills to nonviolent women in prison.
Though constrained by the large wooden bar, Mary’s Attic, the second floor of Hamburger Mary’s, is larger than most blackbox theaters but still very intimate. Guests munch on seasoned fries and sandwiches from downstairs, swill a beer between call-and-response cheers of “Founding…Fathers! Founding…Fathers!” (Kristine Sherred)
Democracy Burlesque performs “November Reign” on election night, November 2, with special live look-ins at elections results, and again November 9. Hamburger Mary’s, 5400 North Clark, democracyburlesque.com