Feel Alive and Accepted at The Donkey Show’s Inclusive, Theatre Nightclub Party (5 Stars)
by Johnny Monsarrat
Here’s a secret. I love to dance but I don’t go to nightclubs. Partly, it’s because I don’t drink alcohol, and I’m no longer 25 and thin. Partly, like everyone I’m hesitant to dance and mingle, especially if I’m alone. Partly, some nightclubs are too crowded to feel comfortable on the dance floor, or to get bar service. Finally, I hate when nightclubs are so loud that I can’t talk with anyone, and it’s a bit of a weird pickup scene.
The Donkey Show fixes all these problems, and that’s what makes it perfect to me. Foremost it’s a retro disco dance party, but let me first explain how it’s also a theatre show.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is perhaps Shakespeare’s most popular play, a comedy in which lovers get mixed up but it all works out in the end. As a joke, Oberon, king of the fairies, casts a spell on Titania that makes her fall with a fool. And the fool is genuinely an ‘ass’, being given the head of a donkey for a day! Men and women dress in drag and change costumes.
The Donkey Show does not follow the original play closely and it has no old English language. Instead it’s an adaptation that is told loosely throughout a night of dancing to 1970s classics like It’s Raining Men, You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real), and YMCA. Playwrights Randy Weiner and Tony award-winning Diane Paulus pull out two themes: let’s celebrate life, and let’s not fear the risks of love, because it will all work out in the end. These themes are then interspersed throughout a night of dancing.
The actors work hard to make you feel invited and included. If you have anxiety about dancing, it is the most joyful and stress free dance party you can attend. It begins while you are outside waiting in line. Characters dressed in 1970s attire come out to joke around with the crowd. Then inside, fairy characters dance and get the party started. They pick out women and men to dance with as the crowd watches and cheers. It’s not a burlesque, but the lightly dressed actors give a lot of eye candy and there are sexual themes. Although the love triangles are straight, with all the cross-dressing and dancing, come to celebrate love in all its diversity. The entire show is about acceptance starting with accepting you as a guest to the show.
It’s all done in OBERON, the second stage of Harvard’s American Repertory Company, which has a full bar with nightclub sound and lighting. The small club holds something like 200 people standing, but has seating with tables to rest your feet, and getting a table is worth the higher ticket price. On all sides there is a raised platform from which performers appears. After every few dance songs, the actors out another part of the story. This happens above on the raised platform, on the main stage, and even weaving through the crowd itself.
With the Shakespeare theme and the club’s location near Harvard, you will find plenty of intellectuals in attendance, but it’s not snobby. Instead, it’s more a party of fairy royalty to which you are invited. The music is loud enough to get you dancing even when you are seated, but I never found myself unable to have a conversation with someone, and the volume did not hurt my ears. With a production that runs most weeks of the year, I assume the cast changes, and guests are not given a program with a list of the cast. This is a well polished production in which every performer had great energy and comic timing. You’ll find a few physical stunts and nightclub surprises as well.
I have to confess that I’m struggling to explain just what The Donkey Show is. Actors pop out of every corner and make you laugh with their antics. You might tear up a bit with how earnestly they pledge love or discover love. It’s some 1970s retro fun. It’s a dance party. It’s a theatre show. It’s a celebration of life. I’ll close by saying that, even if you have no idea what I’m talking about, if you’ll ever attend a dance party in your life, and you like theatre (and you must if you are reading this), you should attend and check it out. There’s a reason why the Donkey Show ran for six years overseas and has been playing strong in Cambridge for seven years. Since Diane Paulus runs the A.R.T. at Harvard, the Donkey Show is sort of a “Boston hometown” show, too. (It’s a lot more Boston than Blue Man Group, which is produced in a dozen cities, and there’s really nothing Boston about it, even though the ads say “You haven’t seen Boston if you haven’t seen Blue Man Group”.)
It doesn’t matter if, like me, you feel a bit out of place in regular nightclubs. Or if, like me, sometimes you don’t want to pretend that every Shakespeare play is accessible and well written. Drop your skepticism and try The Donkey Show. It’s for everyone who loves the arts. It’s for you.
See www.americanrepertorytheater.org and check out all the other weird, progressive, arty, dynamically risk-taking shows that OBERON features, such as Freddie for a Day, which is a fundraiser, costume competition, and tribute night to Freddie Mercury of Queen.