The Ruby Cabaret
The Ruby Besler Cabaret: As quick-witted as it is … quick
By Tyler Dean
Elephant Stage | 6322 Santa Monica Blvd. | Hollywood, CA 90038
It’s my first time visiting the Elephant Stage, a nondescript, gray building set against other nondescript, gray buildings of varying shade along Santa Monica Blvd. I had to park my car several streets down Lillian because I had forgotten to bring change for the meter. Oh well, I need the exercise.
As I breach the intersection where “blvd.” meets “way”, I notice an adjacent baseball field where middle school adolescents play a game next to fenced off basketball courts and children playing tag. It is memorable to me because the rays of sunlight peeking through the chain links surrounding the field cause me to raise a hand in order to see. But the sun soon goes down, and soon I no longer need to shield my eyes. Just in time, too – a crowd is beginning to form outside one of the Elephant Stage’s five doors I had mistaken for a restroom entrance earlier in the evening.
These people are strangers to me, but instantly I can sense a growing camaraderie and fellowship that only one who has tasted the electricity in the air before a show or concert, or even the instant before a traffic accident, can know.
I nod an apology as a gentleman carrying some sort of metal stand appears out of nowhere and begins setting up the metal contraption against one of the building’s walls.
“That’s funny, it looks a lot like one of those hospital things they hang IV bags on,” muses a veteran stage-play attendee next to me.
I take another look at the metal contraption and realize he is right. The curled ends forming the stand into a ‘T’ at the top give it away. It’s at that moment that the gentleman unfurls a poster and hangs it on the IV stand – “The Ruby Besler Cabaret!” is emblazoned across a ruby-red background, the lovely Anastasia Barnes’, as Ruby Besler, poised in a stance of coy showmanship in front of the bold lettering. I’m hoping the combination of the IV stand and the show’s poster isn’t some sort of harbinger of what is to come.
Two lines have formed outside the entrance to the Elephant Stage – the veteran attendee and I get into the one that begins to move. A flock of sheep, our line moves steadily through the “box office” where I am handed several pamphlets, one of which has similar Ruby Besler iconography emblazoned across its cover, and then down a small walkway toward the performance room. As I come to the fore, I am met with quite the surprising sight for someone who rarely makes their way to these sorts of events: four pairs of legs clad in latticed fishnet stockings stand in four different positions, more feathers than person, on an open space designated as the “stage”.
I turn, all but running into the seats next to me, which are barely four feet from the nearest feathered performer. I can’t tell if it is Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies” playing over unseen speakers, or the intimacy of the lighting and seat arrangement, but I can already feel 21st-century Los Angeles slipping away as I dutifully take up host in the second row. Needless to say, I’m pretty impressed – the show hasn’t even begun and I’m already tapping my foot to smooth jazz (this time, to Charlie Parker’s “Bird of Paradise, Part 3” over the speaker) and the low hypnotic murmur of the crowded room. The set-up is simple enough: a swath of red curtain, “RB” emblazoned in gold lettering across the center, fills the back of the room; a piano sits in one corner of near said curtains; a book, similarly emblazoned with “RB”, sits in an opposite corner near the audience.
Silence overtakes Charlie Parker, extinguishing the latter’s soulful saxophonic meanderings, as a silver-clad, similarly fishnet stocking’d Dorothy Diamond (Gere Fennelly), makes her way from behind the red curtains and to the heretofore empty piano. I fastidiously peruse the pamphlet I was handed earlier (didn’t want to miss anything!) and see that Diamond/Fennelly acted as TRBC music’s writer and director. The performers, still seemingly clad in feathers and attempting to stand as still as statues, all of the sudden begin weaving around one another in unison to form a straight line adjacent to the audience. Slowly, suggestively, alluringly, arms appear out of the feathered maelstrom and we see that in fact these feathers are mere fans, covering bodies which themselves are clad in little more than steamy, revealing “tuxedos”. The performer at the front of the line begins moving at a measured pace towards a gentleman who happens to be in her path, in the front row – one fan, then another, manipulated in such a way that we have yet to see these performers’ faces, appears to suggestively stroke the gentleman’s face. In an instant she is snatched away by some unseen force, taking her mark near the back curtain. The others follow suit.
Music booms once more over unseen speakers, culminating in what we the audience can only assume to be the lead-up to unveiling the show’s star, whose namesake the performance is named after, whose initials are emblazoned on the swath of curtain, and book at the front of the room – Ruby Besler! Clad in a champagne-hued dressed not unlike something you might find on Marilyn Monroe, Ruby bursts through the curtains and feathered fans, and into a song accompanied by Fennelly’s keys.
After the initial introduction of the backup performers – Ruby Red (“The Ruby Besler Cabaret” choreographer Flame Cynders), Ruby Violet (Regan Carrington), Ruby Blue (Tatiana Giannoutsos), and Ruby You Know Who (Laurel Vecsey) – and the equal parts charming and sexy song and dance about being made of sugar and spice, TRBC gets down to business with its world premiere and first Hollywood Fringe Festival audience. The electricity from earlier is white-hot.
The show itself focuses on a young woman by the name of, you guessed it, Ruby, whose character’s notoriety is plenty renown from a preceding web series whereby the saucy dame would give advice to women (and occasionally men) on sex and romance, inevitably followed by some original novelty song with a sound appropriate to the 40s period. Barnes, who not only plays Ruby Besler, but is the show’s writer, adapts the Ruby character to the cabaret setting. Ruby has gone to secretarial school in Manhattan while pursuing the dream (which she of course achieves) of being a Broadway star. Along the way she beds and loses a great love before moving on to the next chapter of an adventurous life.
There are seven of these chapters in TRBC, each designated as a major event or influence in Ruby’s life – her mother, her first love, her first kiss, sound advice on maintaining hygiene, etc. – and segued from one another with one of her classically-stylized, albeit more often naughty than nice, interludes, with such unforgettable pieces such as ‘Crooked Penis’ and ‘Kiss a Dame’. Lending your ear to these, one can’t help but think of the equally classic saying, “it’s funny because it’s true.”
At this point, I must make a confession: I feel as if, despite all these seemingly positive remarks, the show was still somewhat of a letdown. Now, I use such hesitant verbiage because this was truly an extraordinarily charming presentation, and as a filmmaker I can appreciate the hard work and dedication that can go into a LIVE premiere performance of a beloved character study, as was TRBC. Nonetheless, as a student of film, and an audience member, it was easy to see that the production was stymied at several junctures due to poor timing, forgetting of lines, forgetting of sections of the narrative, and unsynchronized dancing (it appeared, although I am no choreographer) at several moments. These weren’t Murphy’s Law or deus ex machina gaffes, either, although there were several of those as well.
Another somewhat disappointing aspect of the show was its runtime, which must have been somewhere between 40 or 50 minutes. I thought I was being silly, that is, until about three or four others said the same thing. When I pressed the older woman next to me about whether she had enjoyed the production, she was mysteriously ambiguous, even though her expression said it all.
It’s not that TRBC was a failure by any means – indeed, if anything, I was immeasurably impressed with Barnes’ ability to carry on the show despite the obvious fluctuations of composure. Detractors may posit her role as writer and producer as sole causes for her inexcusability in showcasing a less-than-stellar performance, but the fact is that she was able to rise above those moments of imperfectness and bring to the audience a charming persona that we won’t soon forget, imperfections and all – I believe that is what art is, after all, and the sort of work and artistry that the Hollywood Fringe Festival looks for.
Is there room for improvement? Certainly, but what in this world couldn’t use a little more improvement. One thing I know for sure, as I walk out of the theater and back into the 21st century, I can’t help but feel a desire to go back inside for another dose of the sultry Miss Ruby Besler.
A native of Boston, Anastasia Barnes graduated from University of Massachusetts Amherst. She has worked in both the Boston and New York theatre scenes and has landed roles in network and cable television shows, as well as in independent films. Since moving to Los Angeles, she created “The Ruby Besler Show” for the web, which was recently accepted into the Queer Fringe Festival in London.
Doug Oliphant directs The Ruby Besler Cabaret. A graduate of Central Connecticut State University, his previous directing credits include “44 Plays for 44 Presidents,” “Bluenose,” “There Is Truth, Love Is Real,” “Betty’s Summer Vacation,” much more. He is also a movement director and fight choreographer.
Come to The Ruby Besler Cabaret. Let her sing a song for you and make you laugh. You’ll want to take her home with you.
Give “The Ruby Besler Cabaret” at the Elephant Stage (6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90038) a shot on the following dates: Friday, June 14, 2013 at 7:00PM; Thursday, June 20 at 10:00PM; Tuesday, June 25 at 8:30PM; Saturday, June 29 at 10:00PM.
Admission is $12.00
You can make reservations by calling (323) 455-4585, on with online ticketing at http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/1117?tab=dates
Visit www.therubybeslershow.com to view The Ruby Besler Show… before she went cabaret!