BWW Review: Camp, Catharsis and Calisthenics with Woody Shticks' MANIAC at 18th & Union
There are not a lot of people that I would encourage folks pay to watch lip sync and exercise for an hour. But Woody Shticks is one of those people. Performing this Friday and Saturday only at 18th & Union, Shtick's latest solo production (post-"Shlong Song") "Maniac" has little to no plot, a meager set design of some free weights and a stationary bike, and lots of audience berating, and it's a fabulous way to spend an evening. Watch as Butch Woods (Woody Shticks) jazzercises his way to stardom and hopefully not have a nervous breakdown in the process.
Directed by Woody Shticks, Tootsie Spangles, and Hattie Hellkat (aka The Libertinis), "Maniac" takes place during the filming of Butch Woods' straight-to-VHS workout video, "Full Facial", circa 1989. Woods has developed a new method to revolutionize the way Americans lose weight: incorporating facial movements into aerobic routines (specifically, lip-syncing). He sports the 1980's exercise mogul uniform: a neon windbreaker, leg-warmers, and a glitzy leotard. Butch is intense, mean, and what he lacks in mental stability he makes up for in physical stamina. Clearly Woods is trying to keep it together, perhaps even believes that his bullying is motivational, but beneath the buns of steal is a wounded person who just wants to be loved.
Audiences will see blips of that here and there, but the bulk of the show consists of Shticks lip-syncing to classic 80's dance ballads: "Twist of Fate" by Olivia Newton John, "Rhythm of the Night" by DeBarge, and "Tell It To My Heart" by Taylor Dayne, just to name a few.
(As an aside, the music in this too fun and well-curated to not have a corresponding "Maniac" playlist.)
It becomes clear after the third or so lip-sync that this show probably won't have much of a plot. The choreography, though polished, starts to get a little routine: watching an 80s aerobic workout video is nowhere near as fun as actually participating, but thankfully a) Shticks is a brilliant storyteller and performer and b) Shticks breaks up the monotony with a bizarre subplot involving a late business partner and a tragic jump-roping accident.
Go into this show thinking of it as an elaborate drag performance: Butch Woods is a brightly colored caricature who, when he's not lip-syncing on stage, picks on audience members, and it's hysterically funny. To Woods, this certainly is not a joke, but to the audience, it is, which makes you want to get picked on by Woods. And like a good drag performance, Shticks marries comedy and sex appeal successfully, which, in performance, is no easy feat. "Maniac" is...stimulating.
Woods is a high-intensity character that starts high-intensity, stays high-intensity, and ends high-intensity. This gets a bit tiresome after a while, but it leads to a large payoff near the end in a tremendously relatable moment of catharsis. And, yes, it's in the form of a lip-sync, but it makes this ridiculous character, who is largely villainous, relatable. Despite the show having some pacing issues, I left with a sore jaw from laughter, which is why I give Woody Shtick's "Maniac" an endorphin-rich B+. Don't worry: there is an homage to Flashdance.
"Maniac" performs at 18th & Union (Friday and Saturday only!) through February 24, 2018. For tickets and information, visit them online at www.18thandunion.org.