BWW Reviews: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST As A Sideshow Attraction
Husband and wife performing artists Mat Fraser and Julie Atlas Muz are obviously crazy about each other. And the wild and humorous abandon with which they show how crazy about each other they are - a fully nude, fully lit simulated sex session that races through a catalogue of positions with giddy, bouncy enthusiasm - is the sweet capper to their very personal telling of the classic tale, Beauty and The Beast.
British Fraser - an accomplished actor, writer, musician and sideshow performer - was born with what he describes as "small and perfectly deformed arms"; the result of his mother being prescribed to use Thalidomide to cure her morning sickness. He also has no thumbs, "that miracle of human evolution, setting apart the animals and creatures from the humans, making me beastly in the eyes of the world."
American Muz, a former Miss Coney Island and Miss Exotic World, is well known as one of the leading personalities of neo-burlesque. The charismatic pair met backstage at the Coney Island's Sideshow. Both were married at the time, but after Fraser got a look at Muz's disembodied hand striptease routine and then taught the ecdysiast how to kill a person with a choke hold, the two knew they were destined for each other.
Alternating with individual monologues that give tastes of their childhood, nibbles of their relationship and, in Fraser's case, encounters with body-image issues, the two play out scenes based on Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont's Beauty And The Beast. The gorgeous designs by Philip Eddolls (set), Kevin Pollard (costumes) and Ed Clarke (sound) evoke dark, fairy-tale eroticism, but Phelim McDermott's imaginative direction keeps the mood delightfully light. Even when the couple is feasting on a meal of fresh fruit and vegetables, licking and sucking and gnawing at their food with cheerful lustiness, there's a great deal of innocent honesty about the evening as we watch the fictional characters fall in love just as happily as the real life pair already have.
Assisting in the proceedings are their "puppeteer slaves," Jonny Dixon and Jess Mabel Jones. The silent twosome, who also get naked before the business is concluded, assist with the storytelling with projected images, masks and, at times, providing their own arms to enhance the length of Fraser's.
If the charming and frisky piece has a glitch, it's that after the initial mention of both having spouses when they met, we're left hanging as to how those two relationships were dissolved. Perhaps their exes have another theatre attraction running somewhere, telling their sides of the story.