Within a few minutes of walking into The Devil’s Cabaret, Redmoon Theater’s newest show, I was playing a video game with a priest. With a skeleton puppet in one hand and a controller in the other he challenged me to a racing game, but quickly began asking me about my porn habits and other topics I’d rather not discuss with any member of the clergy. The oddness of that interaction, though brief, helped set the stage for the entire night.
After fizzling at The Great Chicago Fire Festival in October, Redmoon has produced a triumphant success with The Devil’s Cabaret. The show is a truly interesting and fun spectacle—a return to classic Redmoon. The theater company has taken a simple concept, the cabaret, and transformed the experience into something far grander.
The premise is simple: the Devil has invited us all to hell to celebrate the seven deadly sins, with an act of the performance celebrating each in turn. The show is staged in the Redmoon warehouse, a large open space with wall-to-wall projections and an open craft beer bar. There are numerous sideshows to the main event: a swing set, a confessional booth, the video-game-playing priest, and a tattoo artist all encourage guests to embrace a life of sin.
The simple conceit of the show belies the production’s sophistication—behind the sheer spectacle, The Devil’s Cabaret displays an impressive degree of technical mastery. The centerpiece of the performance is a thirty-foot tall multi-story rotating crane tower with a rock band, a DJ, and other performers on platforms. As their motto promises, Redmoon quite literally engineers wonder.
When the show started in earnest, the audience was summoned to the metal tower as it hoisted a piano, pianist, and cabaret singer high in the air. As the piano moved through the air and the cabaret singer belted her lungs out, the audience got the first taste of what the entire show would be like: lewd and hilarious. As the Devil stepped out and encouraged us to drink, dance, and give into sin, the audience (already drunk on the free beer) rolled with laughter.
In the first act, Lust, the crew exchanged the piano for a set of silks hung from the crane. The Devil introduced the audience to his succubi, and encouraged the audience to masturbate to their beauty. The stage began rotating as the performers took turns performing their routines and the Devil alternated between making fun of the audience and admiring the performers.
After, he began to read the confessions that the audience had made at the confession booth, encouraging the audience to loudly cheer and jeer as the revelation warranted. The most scandalous, a confession from a high school teacher admitting to buying drugs off of one of their students, caused the room to erupt into laughter.
The ordeal with the confessions reveals one of the best aspects of The Devil’s Cabaret: the audience is brought into the performance and made a part of the show. In one of the funnier acts of the seven, Gluttony, the Devil invited a member of the audience onto one of the platforms and had them compete with two of the performers in a hot-dog-eating contest. In few other theaters does the audience get to eat, drink, and yell as one of their own competes against the performers in a feat of eating virtuosity.
Above all, the best part of The Devil’s Cabaret is simply how much fun the experience is. After the hot-dog-eating contest, the Devil asked if it was anyone’s birthday and brought a few people up onto the platforms. After singing a round of “Happy Fucking Birthday,” the Devil gave them cake and asked them exceedingly personal questions. For the final act, Wrath, the platform rotated while the performers breathed fire and played heavy metal music on a drum set lifted into the air. The act ended with the Devil getting a phone call from God, who called on the audience to keep dancing and drinking. By this point the crowd was more than happy to oblige.
Redmoon deftly avoids a problem common to large-scale spectacle shows, where the quality of the performance is sacrificed to overdone stunts, The Devil’s Cabaret, by contrast, demonstrates a high degree of artistry. In Sloth, the best act of the night, the crew raised a large white screen for a fire-lit shadow puppet routine exploring depression. Even in the middle of a drunken, sinful debacle, Redmoon took a somber moment to challenge its audience.
Redmoon Theater, 2120 S. Jefferson St. Weekends May 1 through May 16, 9pm-midnight. $25; includes open bar. 21+. (312)850-8440. redmoon.org