August 25, 2011 | by Patrick Folliard
One final theatrical prank

‘The Aristocrats’
Sat at 8:30 and 11 p.m.
Cherry Red Productions
Warehouse Theater
645 New York Ave N.W.
$30

Ian Allen, Cherry Red’s artistic director. He lives in New York but has continued working in Washington. (Photo by Isabel Sinistore; courtesy of Cherry Red)

 

After 16 years of making D.C. audiences laugh, wince and gag, Cherry Red Productions is calling it quits. Since its creation, the company has attracted a loyal following who appreciate an insane sensibility, late night performances and small venues (sometimes bars). For those reasons, and a vacillating oeuvre of dark and light plays with titles like “Thumbsucker” and “Cannibal Cheerleaders on Crack,” Cherry Red will be sorely missed.

“We knew that we couldn’t go on forever,” says Ian Allen, Cherry Red’s artistic director. “And now that we’re ending, we’re presented with the opportunity to go out on an unmistakable Cherry Red high. Of course that’s something we’d never pass up. It’s going to be awkward, insane and fun.”

The smutty swan song to which Allen alludes is titled “The Aristocrats.” Inspired by a joke about a showbiz family whose act includes incest, bestiality and murder, the play — written and directed by Allen (who’s gay) and longtime company member Kate Debelack — is rumored to truly go there. Unlike Paul Provenza’s same-titled 2005 documentary, which features comedians telling their own versions of the joke, Cherry Red’s interpretation calls for 40 of the company’s alumni to reenact the filthy gag onstage.

There will be no holding back, promises Allen. Cherry Red’s design teams and actors have developed a lot of skills over time. Past productions have required staging insane violence including scalping, projectile body fluids and all sorts of sex acts. No doubt, there’ll be lots of that. Also, Cherry Red’s website offers a sneak peek featuring an actor igniting a part of his anatomy that is ordinarily kept under wraps. If this is an indication of what’s in store, Cherry Red may be reaching new heights of raunchiness.

After less than two days of rehearsal, “The Aristocrats” will play for one night only (two performances) on Saturday at the Warehouse Theater. Proceeds benefit District of Columbia Arts Center (DCAC), a nonprofit organization that proved instrumental in the company’s early development.

“Cherry Red’s demise is bittersweet,” says Debelack who also teaches acting at Studio Theatre. “Honestly, there’s not a lot left for us to do, but I’ll still miss it. Collaborating on this final project with Ian has been so much fun. Where else will I be able to come up with so much ridiculousness and actually put it onstage?”

She credits the company with allowing her to let go and be bold onstage. And whether attacking a zombie cat or leading a bevy of mean teens in “Worm Girl” (one of my favorites), she has always taken her Cherry Red work seriously.

Cherry Red, says Allen, has always produced shows that speak first to the body and then to the mind. The goal is to elicit an immediate response: sexual arousal, disgust or fear. What’s unique about theater is that it’s always present; it can actually threaten audience members. Allen seamlessly references an example: “When we were doing ‘Dingleberries,’ it called for the actors to eat pooh. From the audience you could smell that it was chocolate — Snickers bars dipped in pudding to be exact — but the impression was still too much for some people and sent them running from the theater.”

“Cherry Red has never been anyone’s day job,” Allen says. “But our company members have always been a combination of experience and enthusiastic youth. We’ve lasted by the sheer indecent determination on the part of many people and now we’re done.”

Eight years ago Allen moved from Washington to New York where he is marketing director for the MCC Theater in the West Village. Since then he has happily made the trip south now and then to work on Cherry Red productions. Despite the company’s closing, Allen hopes to continue to be involved in interesting local projects.

“After all,” he says, “D.C. is where my friends are.”

 

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