Torso Theatre

I am not a great fan of Cannibal Cheerleaders on Crack. In fact Torso’s four-year hit, featuring a malevolent gynecologist, a holographic stripper, and an ocean of bodily fluids, gave me the dry heaves and no compelling reason to stay beyond intermission. So I was slightly relieved, grateful even, when I called the Torso folks to come review their newest work and they politely nixed my assignment: they would cast not their pearls before just any Reader critic.

I thought I’d be left to privately and loftily dismiss Torso once again, but no. Did Torso think it could pick and choose its press? I was asked. Torso seems to delight in breaking rules onstage, and it was suggested to me that I should disregard their rules and go review them anyway. So I embarked on an undercover mission, paying for my ticket like a regular human being. That meant no press kit and no photos; the theater also refused to provide photos at a later date, which is why the space to the left is blank.

It’s a shame Torso didn’t want me to review Shannen Doherty Shoots a Porno: A Shockumentary. I would have raved about it. I might have said that underneath the obligatory piss, vomit, blood, and ejaculate this is a brilliant, hilarious examination of cult figures, fame, and overkill. I might’ve mentioned that writer-director Billy Bermingham delivers a masterful satire worthy of John Waters but more effective, in my book, because the performances are live. I would’ve been obliged to mention that the show could use a little cutting here and there (a pointless scene in which two secretaries discuss feminine hygiene products, for example, as well as a lot of bad behavior from Joe Feliciano as Axl Rose). But I would’ve concentrated on Shannen herself, the star of the show in every respect.

As Bermingham conceives her and as she’s ingeniously portrayed by Amanda Bleu, Shannen (the star of TV’s Beverly Hills 90210, for those of you hopelessly out of touch) is no mere brat but a monstrous force shaped by her business. Sort of an empowered woman, she’s so out of control she’s more like a misogynist’s nightmare of an empowered woman. In Bermingham’s version of her life, she terrorizes Aaron Spelling with a staple gun, shoots Judd Nelson, cripples Traci Lords, and beats the snot out of her 90210 costar Tori Spelling. And all of this only endears her to us, her audience, more. Appreciative as any tabloid junkies, we cheer her on as she gets away with murder, applauding her vanity and envying her balls. In effect, as she takes pains to point out late in the show, we are responsible for her, monster that she is.

Bleu’s performance is nothing short of remarkable. For some reason I was expecting a cut-rate Shannen in a bad wig–and Bleu is a petite beauty with a gigantic stage presence and killer timing. Camp is a delicate art, requiring that the performer commit 100 percent to an absurd character while acknowledging all along that she’s got an audience three feet away. Whether Shannen is stabbing an assistant through the hand for providing the wrong brand of bottled water or dancing with a 15-foot phallus, Bleu plays with the audience yet never breaks character for an instant. There wasn’t a moment I did not believe she was Shannen Doherty. Backing her up is the ever-excellent Alexandra Billings (most notable as a Nazi prison matron) and Nicole Childs, who actually achieves moments of poignancy as Tori Spelling even though her character is a punching bag most of the time.

In true Torso style, there is no dearth of senseless violence and spurting secretions, but here they have a point. In Shannen’s world, success means excess. Rude and crude as Torso Theatre’s doings are, they’re only a pale metaphor for what goes on in the offices of television network executives.

If you’re drunk (“the drunker you are, the funnier we are,” said the guy who gave the curtain speech), this show has some really good dirty jokes for you. And if you’re sober–as even an undercover critic is obliged to be–you’ll discover a razor-sharp satire that rips the lid off Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Either way you’ll laugh, and hard.