Rock Bottom

A true original of cabaret sits down for a National Endowment for the Arts-sponsored residency at the Public Theater’s Joe’s Pub.

Bridget Everett stars in Rock Bottom, directed by Scott Wittman, at Joe's Pub.
Bridget Everett stars in Rock Bottom, directed by Scott Wittman, at Joe's Pub.
(© Kevin Yatarola)

Bridget Everett is a cabaret terrorist. One suspects this the moment she bursts through the front door of Joe's Pub clutching a frilly pink tulle boa howling, "Aw sh*t!" Once she starts assaulting an audience member seated near the stage with a large rubber phallus, all suspicions are confirmed. No one is safe in her new show, Rock Bottom, which finds Everett stalking through the aisles of the popular downtown cabaret, telling stories from her life (and sometimes yours) while sending her Valkyrie-like voice straight through the club's rafters and into the heavens. It's a nightclub experience unlike anything else you'll encounter in New York.

The program of mostly original songs is the product of Everett's collaboration with Tony Award-winning composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (Hairspray). Matt Ray and Adam "Ad-Rock" Horovitz (The Beastie Boys) also have a hand in this collection of infectiously fun pop tunes. Songs include raunchy titles such as "Eat It," which ended with Broadway performer and director André De Shields (just a patron the night I attended) licking a line of whipped cream off of Everett's thigh.

Between songs, Everett swigs from a bottle of Chardonnay in a brown paper bag while telling stories from her childhood in Kansas and her life as a "regionally recognized cabaret star." She delivers them all with a level of sincerity you're not sure you should trust: It all sounds so over the top, but one suspects there's a kernel of truth in her tall tales.

"Tell Me" is a rollicking song about Everett's international sexploits. In case you miss any subtext in the lyrics, video designer Mary Matthews spells it out in a hilarious series of projections. As a phalanx of phalluses wearing papal headgear dance on screen behind Everett, it becomes clear that this was just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to her unabashedly raunchy, rarely subtle act.

The show's title song finds Everett moving through the club and riffing on increasingly mortifying stories about how different audience members have almost reached "rock bottom." The tale of Fun Aunt Jackie, who gets drunk at her nephew's 21st birthday party, is an audience favorite. Everett uses the confessional, often falsely sentimental conventions of cabaret to convey some seriously twisted stuff.

Amazingly, she is also able to shift tones for the serious and heartbreaking ballad "Get Over You," about her deceased father. Her powerful and clear voice will send shivers down your spine. She absolutely soars on the finale number, "I'll Take You Home."

Everett spends much of the show spilling out of Larry Krone's shabby-chic DIY dresses. "I call this one The Optic Nerve," she comments on what appears to be a Magic Eye-inspired window curtain hot-glued to an elastic band. Everett's side-boob is on full display throughout, a harbinger of things to come.

Rising cabaret star Cole Escola, clad only in a diaper, makes a delightful guest appearance singing Pat Boone's right-to-life anthem "Let Me Live." Considering that this show is being presented with generous support from the National Endowment for the Arts, I think we can firmly place Rock Bottom in Mapplethorpe country — the uncomfortable realm of state-sponsored art that would send your grandmother running for the smelling salts. Of course, we could also pause to consider how much the parameters of what counts as "shocking art" have changed since the height of the culture war.

Obviously, not everyone will appreciate Everett's sexually charged in-your-face style of cabaret. But if you travel in a pack of outrageous bears and sassy broads with a taste for Chardonnay, I can't think of a better night out.

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Rock Bottom

Closed: October 16, 2014