By J. Scott Hill
As the days start to get a little shorter and the August swelter finally breaks, Chicago’s Burlesque enthusiasts know it is time for Vaudezilla to remount its signature show, Rollin’ Outta Here Naked: A Big Lebowski Burlesque. Now in its fourth year, Rollin’ Outta Here Naked is an ever-changing love letter to the Coen brothers’ cult classic. Over the various incarnations of the show, sections of Rollin’ Outta Here Naked have been cut out, cut in, reworked, embellished, and created afresh; after four years of continual tinkering, Writer/Director Keith Emroll has finally perfected his script.
Rollin’ Outta Here Naked is not so much a parody of The Big Lebowski as it is an extension of it. It is not really like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is to Hamlet either, but more like a collection of The Big Lebowski’s deleted scenes (that never actually existed). Emroll manages to emulate the Coen brothers’ writing style so closely that audience members who are not intimately familiar with The Big Lebowski may wrongly assume that Rollin’ Outta Here Naked reproduces actual dialogue from the movie in some of the scenes.
This freshly perfected script has been placed in the care of some very talented performers. Red Hot Annie plays Maude as a serious-minded artist — structured nearly to the point of OCD in every aspect of her life except for her amorphous art, devoid of whimsy. Mia D. Vine imbues Bunny Lebowski with more than enough zest for a trophy wife gone rogue. Mister Junior is particularly slimy as the hyper-macho bowler and convicted pederast, Jesus Quintana. Mark Lancaster’s take on The Stranger is so earnest you can almost smell the good sarsaparilla on his breath. These performances succeed because these actors are not impersonating the actors from the film, but are portraying the characters and doing so very convincingly, which is a lot of theatre to get out of a little late-night Burlesque show based on a cult movie.
The gang of nihilists from The Big Lebowski has been combined here into a single nihilist, played by Trixie Sparx. The ever-alluring Sparx transforms herself into a completely feral freak.
Brendan Yukins shines as Brandt, Jeffrey (the big) Lebowski’s assistant. In the role played in the film by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Yukins brings an innocence and singularity of purpose to a character that could easily be nothing but a one-dimensional, smarmy sycophant.
Rollin’ Outta Here Naked owes much of its success to Logan Conner as the Dude. Conner’s complete embodiment of the Dude — his physical presence, the patterns of his speech, everything — is impeccable. In his other onstage life as a third of the sketch comedy troupe Awesomonster, Conner looks more like a less gaunt John Lennon than he does Jeff Bridges. Still, his transformation here into one of Bridges’s most beloved characters is fully realized.
The title Rollin’ Outta Here Naked would not make any sense if there weren’t a few performers appearing in various states of undress. Vaudezilla C. E. Oh! Red Hot Annie performs a sheet dance as Maude — which would fall in The Big Lebowski’s timeline right after Maude had sex with the Dude — that is the cure for the common post-coital tristesse. Bunny, played by Mia D. Vine, looks paradoxically very tan and Scandinavian, and can barely keep her clothes on at any given moment (for which the audience seems ceaselessly appreciative). Tara Ractyl dons a pillow-belly to play Walter, but that pillow finds its way onto the floor with the rest of Walter’s clothes and most of what Ractyl wears underneath Walter’s clothes as well. Trixie Sparx’s stripping deranged nihilist is the most wonderfully bizarre highlight of a most wonderfully bizarre show — at once repulsive and attractive, and an absolute laugh riot.
At Vaudezilla, the Burlesque dancing is no longer a women-only endeavor. In Rollin’ Outta Here Naked, Boylesque performer Mister Junior strips out of Jesus Quintana’s iconic purple jump suit down to one meticulously placed sock.
Vaudezilla strikes the right balance between sexy and funny in this series of alternate takes onThe Big Lebowski. While you don’t need to be familiar with The Big Lebowski in order to enjoy this show, it can only enhance your pleasure to give the movie a viewing (it is currently streaming on Netflix) before you go see this show. Rollin’ Outta Here Naked: A Big Lebowski Burlesque is a late-night success story that has been a long time in the making, and is terrific fun whether you are a Coen brothers fanatic or not. If you are a Coen brothers fanatic, or a Burlesque enthusiast in any capacity, DO NOT MISS this production.
(“Rollin’ Outta Here Naked: A Big Lebowski Burlesque” runs Friday and Saturday nights at 10:00 PM through September 22 at the Viaduct Theater, 3111 N. Western Ave., Chicago.773-296-6024)
Rollin’ Outta Here Naked: A Big Lebowski Burlesque production photos by Kriss Abigail.