A naked girl hula hoops and asks unsuspecting audience members if they will buy her some candy. There’s a naked male roller skater. A man gets lowered on stage by a great big giant gold dong. A live band performs Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” while patrons imbibe free beer from the lobby. And that’s just in the first 10 minutes of Caligula Maximus, a rowdy, rude, loud, and eventually wearying retelling of the legend, only this time with female bodybuilders, acrobats, and full-on dance numbers with a cast that is seemingly endless.
Playing the titular, self-created deity Caligula with a cheeky, pervy, party-boy hauteur not unlike Cabaret‘s furtive emcee, the brave, highly attention-catching Ryan Knowles lords over a most unruly evening, and your enjoyment of the show is probably most dependent on how anarchic your sensibilities are. This is down-and-dirty downtown theater of the crudest kind, which is highly commendable in this era of prefab junk-food theater and would be even more so if the whole enterprise (envisioned by Classical Theatre of Harlem’s Alfred Preisser and nightspot impresario Randy Weiner) didn’t feel so slickly disjointed.
There’s a lot going on in its 75 minutes (I haven’t even mentioned the wrestling bouts, the oyster lapped off of a woman’s vagina, or the gospel hoedown), and it’s great to see someone truly using the vast entirety of the wonderful Ellen Stewart Theater at La MaMa.
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