The A.R.T.’s CABARET at Club Oberon, not their theater space, encompasses a world where Kit Kat Klub pranksters intrude on almost every scene — infiltrating the audience, checking our bags, crawling up the balcony railings, standing on audience chairs, balancing on our tables, knocking over our drinks. Director Steven Bogart does not let you forget that Berlin was a dangerous place in the ‘30s and anonymity was impossible. A ruffian, or rather a prankster, can ruffle your hair at any moment. The Dresden Dolls’ phenom, Amanda Palmer (who plays the emcee) wanted an interactive setting for her production of the Kander & Ebb musical (running through the end of October) and she gets it.
A consequence of this frenetic atmosphere is that the absence of the whirlwind heightens the dramatic punch: The Nazi threat (personified in the elegant presence of David Costa as everyone’s seductive “friend”) and the impossible marriage of the rueful landlady (Thomas Derrah) to her beloved greengrocer (Remo Airaldi) stand out in relief like a fresco. We’re of course charmed by Sally Bowles (Aly Trasher) and the Isherwood stand-in (Matt Wood) but the stage is electrified when the threat is undeniably immediate. Director Bogart gives us another, stunning “immediate” horror at the end of the musical (reminiscent of Stacey Klein’s ashen rain in Double Edge’s SONG OF ABSENCE) which triggers a flashback to his clever foreshadows like the train which transports the “Money” number to its climax.
Palmer gets a plaintive, sardonic duet with Tom Duprey on trumpet (I Don’t Care Much) and cheeky gender bending with the naughty Two Ladies but curiously, Tom Derrah as Fraulein Schneider makes no waves, not a ripple in our suspension of disbelief. He plays it absolutely straight, as it were, and we’re completely convinced. Fraulein Schneider’s affection for her Jewish suitor and his mistaken belief that the Nazi menace will “pass” is the story that stays with you long after you’ve “Come to the Cabaret.”