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The Lagniappe

You, students of HBS, are like baby Jesus. And this column is the collective Magi-bringing you gifts from a foreign land. Well, at least a foreign perspective: that of a non-student.

As a Research Associate I get to do some pretty cool work with some really amazing professors (a loud shout out to Youngme, Tom and Aldo.) I also have more free time than you do. Probably much more. The idea of the Lagniappe (lan-yap) is to bring you a weekly account of events, adventures, and experiences in Cambridge, Boston, and the surrounding area (a.k.a. as far as my banana-seated Schwinn can take me). If there’s an opening in your schedule to venture outside of the legendary HBS bubble, and you are not weekending in some exotic locale like Borneo, the Lagniappe can hopefully provide one way to fill that gap.

Some of the exploits I will pull from sources you may already receive like Thrillist, DailyCandy, et cetera. I’ll take on the role of test pilot. Or crash test dummy. Depends on the event, I guess. Beyond reviews and previews, also expect some plain-old views-my tangentially-related notes of things going on in music, culture, and more generally, this crazy experiment we call America. Sound like a mildly incoherent mixed bag? Yup. That’s what I’m evolving towards: the anti-lucid.

For those of you not familiar with the term lagniappe, it essentially means “a little something extra”-usually a small gift given by a storeowner with a customer’s purchase. The term is more commonly used in the Southeastern states. As a girl from Minnesota, I came across it via my tiny liberal arts college. (Thanks, Carleton.) I’ve guesstimated that the future market value of this column is one over the price of gold + frankincense + myrrh. (I had to meander my way back to the Nativity scene somehow.) Still, I hope you’ll find this beneficial in some small way. Even if it’s laughing at me, that’s great. And if you have any suggestions for things to do or places to check out, please send them my way: [email protected]

For my first attempt at cultural journalism I headed to one event that promised to be a bastion for all things civilized: The Donkey Show. I know what you’re thinking: “Were some animal cruelty laws recently repealed that I missed?” Fortunately no, not as far as I’m aware. If you haven’t heard of The Donkey Show already, it is the disco-fied version of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Except there isn’t an inch of dialogue from the classic tale of tangled-up paramours. Instead, most of the plot’s sentiments in this production are channeled through disco hits like “Ring my Bell,” “We are Family” and “I Love the Nightlife,” with cast members weaving among and around the audience members-turned-clubgoers. A few lines of dialogue are peppered in for a more cogent story. Add generous doses of body glitter, cross-dressing, and highly suspect white powder, and you get the gist. Generally sound a bit awful, garish, and campy?

You’re right on two of the three. I walked away from the evening enchanted, slightly shocked, but nevertheless enchanted. An impish smirk proved difficult to wipe off my face. The Donkey Show expresses many themes of Shakespeare’s classic through a highly-spirited, ravishing, and down-right hedonistic disco spectacle of the peaks and troughs of love, lust, and the intertwining pursuit thereof.

This is not meant to be overly cerebral theater; it has a more pool-like quality (read: dive right in). It would be impossible to attend this show and not dance or awkwardly nod your head to the beat. And while not all the cast members wowed me with their vocal talent, nor did I have any moments of intellectual epiphany, both of these facts are beside the point. What I experienced was nearly pure, adulterated (yes, adulterated) enjoyment. Boundaries were pushed, eyebrows were raised, and some mouths were left agape by various scenes in the production. There were moments, however, when the absurdity tiptoed over the line into incredulity from overacting, but these times were few and far between, and may have been a result of some actors’ interpretation of campiness.

The show is ring-mastered by the skeezy club owner Oberon-played by a woman not-so-cleverly disguised as a man. He’s in a quarrel with Tytania, the diva whose butterfly pasties and shiny tiny hot pants leave little to the imagination. The four lovers of the original story are renamed-and the chorus of fairies is played by four men-four very, very attractive and toned men whose outfits are 94% body glitter and 6% spandex shorts. Straight women and gay men collectively rejoiced at this sight. The character of Puck is rechristened Dr. Wheelgood, the hobgloblin set loose on roller skates. He effectively creeped me out on several occasions throughout the night. There are a few other characters wiggling their way throughout the crowd trying to solicit a reaction from the audience-an attempt to simultaneously melt the fourth wall usually present in performance and that chilly east coast exterior I’ve come to know and love.

If you couldn’t surmise already, The Donkey Show makes no attempt to resemble, or be, conventional theater. A queue is formed outside prior to the show, reminding me of a Friday night in the Meatpacking District rather than any night in Cambridge, ever. Inside there are no rigid rows of seats, orchestra pit, or grandiose chandeliers. Instead the audience finds itself in a club-replete with two full bars (very clutch), a dance floor, and a gargantuan disco ball. Once the show begins the night passes swiftly. It is easy to become mesmerized by the whirlwind story of drug-induced disco disciples chasing each other around in the name of love. Make sure if you buy a table (instead of dance floor tickets), that you get up and out to the dance floor as soon as the spirit moves you. If not, you’ll have missed out on one of the best parts of the experience: being an active contributor to the production’s vivacity.

The crowd (when I was there) was generally under-35, more female, and up for a good time. Going in with the right mindset is crucial to enjoying The Donkey Show. I would also highly recommend grabbing a drink at one of the many nearby establishments prior to the show. Trust me. One further caveat: comfort with your own sexuality and a general ease around things mildly raunchy is probably necessary to liking this production. I don’t want to be billed for anyone’s future therapy sessions.

FURTHER INFORMATION
The Donkey Show is produced by the critically-acclaimed American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) at their more intimate second performance space, Oberon. The Donkey Show had an impressive six-year run in New York City followed by an extensive world tour. Now in its 10th year, the show has landed in our little paradise of Cambridge.

Oberon is located at the corner of Mass. Avenue and Arrow Street (by BerryLine). The show runs through October 31, though I’ve heard rumors of an extension. Don’t count on it though, so buy your tickets now if you want to get in on the revelry. Shows are Wednesday through Saturday nights (with both an 8:30 and 10:30 show on Saturday). Some people treat this as a costume party; I didn’t, but you may be moved to bust out your favorite poly-blend bell bottoms and layer on the gold chains for the occasion. Tickets can be purchased online at www.americanrepertorytheater.org or at the A.R.T. box office at the Loeb Drama Center.

AUTHOR’S BIOGRAPHY
Jenna Bernhardson is from Minnesota, and is in her second year as a Research Associate at HBS.ÿ When not working diligently in the basement of Morris, she seeks out adventure and danger in Cambridge and the surrounding area.ÿ Theÿmission of the Lagniappe is to push human achievement
to new heights.

MUSIC ADDENDUM
While most of the disco classics are featured in the show, I thought I’d come up with my own list of what could be good pre-Donkey Show listening to get you in the mood. Although disco’s stylistic progeny is usually acknowledged as Techno, House, and the like, I veer more towards my own highly subjective view of the modern fruits of disco’s labor. Also, you’ll find tracks that fell either in the disco era, or a few years before. Ultimately all these songs are just fun to dance to. So get down accordingly.

Fancy Footwork – Chromeo
Love Train – The O’ Jays
Just Dance – Lady Gaga
Love Today – Mika
I Want You Back – Jackson 5
I Believe in a Thing Called Love – The Darkness
Dance to the Music – Sly & the Family Stone
Miami Beach – The Cool Kids
Everytime We Touch – Cascada
Superstition – Stevie Wonder
Bootylicious – Destiny’s Child
American Boy – Estelle (feat. Kanye West)
Bonafied Lovin’ – Chromeo
Express Yourself – Charles Wright & the 103rd St. Rhythm Band
Love Long Distance – Gossip

September 21, 2009

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