This review of BenDeLaCreme's Inferno A-Go-Go at The Laurie Beechman Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
BenDeLaCreme's Inferno A-Go-Go
Written & Performed by BenDeLaCreme (Benjamin Putnam)
The Laurie Beechman Theatre
407 West 42nd Street
New York, New York 10036
BenDeLaCreme is best known from Season 6 of RuPaul's Drag Race where she won "Miss Congeniality" and has since been voted one of the show's "15 Fan Favorite Queens Of All Time." In 2014, the premiere of Terminally Delightful wowed New York City audiences and in 2015, her follow-up show, Cosmos, blended Carl Sagan with cocktail culture. Now, in 2016, BenDeLaCreme is back with her latest show, Inferno A-Go-Go. In this adventurous descent into Hell as a passenger aboard Carnal Cruises (motto: We'll see you...in Hell!) and armed with her "Gone To Hell" brochure and a God Pass, she travels and visits all Nine Circles of Hell (Limbo, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Wrath, Heresy, Violence, Fraud & Treachery) as depicted in the first part of Dante Alighieri's 14th-century epic poem Divine Comedy, eventually meeting the Devil himself at the center of the 9th Circle. BenDeLaCreme's Ninth Circle looks nothing like the Ninth Circle Steakhouse (139 West 10th Street between Greenwich Avenue & Waverly Place) which closed down in 2002. That unpretentious bar always made you feel welcome and was the place everyone met up after a long evening out on the town. The only Devils there were the bartenders who sold extremely cut cocaine to unsuspecting customers.
BenDeLaCreme agrees to the disclaimer and ignores the sign at the entrance to Hell warning, "Abandon All Hope Those Who Enter Here!" With the aid of video clips, songs, puppets and characters she has created, BenDeLaCreme takes the audience on a journey into "a world of eternal suffering" or "Suffer Rings", a term she claims to have trademarked. Limbo, the first circle of Hell, contains the souls of the uncommitted and the unbaptized. Lust, the second circle of Hell, has the souls of those who were addicted to internet porn and homosexuals who spent all their time on Grindr. Gluttony (or Self-Indulgence) is the third circle of Hell, represented by a puppet who, through ventriloquism, speaks about how her last soiree was covered by the Devil's Advocate. You also get to visit a part of Hell "where after the third world children finish their sewing, you are able to harvest their bones for ivory." Yes, I know. It doesn't make any sense, but I still found the line to be very funny.
BenDeLaCreme had trouble entering the City of Dis. The walls of Dis were guarded by fallen Angels and our heroine is threatened by the Furies and Medusa. An angel sent from Heaven secures her entry but the City of Dis is nothing like she thought it would be. She ends up being "disrespected" and told "you are so ugly that when you were born, the doctor slapped your mother" and "you are so ugly that even the tide wouldn't take you out." When she arrives at the third ring of the 7th circle, she finds a desert full of gays who are "always thirsty." We are told Nancy Reagan has also been sent there. Even though she is not gay, it is still her Hell." Violence, the 7th Circle, also contains a Trump-like character wearing a baseball cap imprinted with the phrase, "Make Hell Great Again." He is a vigilante who believes it is his duty as a proud Hellian to judge and punish those who were murderers and terrorists. The only problem is that his punishments seem to be much more severe if the perpetrator is a person of color. In the end, this Trump-like character and BenDeLaCreme get into a fight when she argues "My Butt Matters" and he responds with "All Butts Matter."
When we finally meet the Devil via video clip at the center of the 9th Circle of Hell, he speaks as if he is The Wizard Of Oz, saying, "Come forward! I am Satan - The Great & Powerful. Silence! I know why you have come. You want to understand the nature of suffering." When he got to the point when he said, "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!", BenDeLaCreme couldn't find that man. Satan needed to remind her it was a solo show and that she has been the only person on stage for the entire show. This reminder was not as obvious as you might think. Throughout the show, we are introduced to different characters, all played by BenDeLaCreme, and projected to us on screen. BenDeLaCreme interacts with these characters throughout the show. I was struck at how different each of her characters was: accents, mouthing, eye movements, and gestures - she was consistent and never broke character, breathing life into her on-screen creations, making her conversations with them seen real and live; her timing was superb and she barely ever stepped on the screen characters' lines (and vice versa); despite a quick and demanding pace. In short, it seemed like actual conversations, instead of a performer talking to a recording. Amazing! What a ton of work and rehearsal this must've taken! I'm in awe!
Her puppets also had distinctive personalities and accents, all the more amazing considering she was speaking both parts. Hers was by far one of the best ventriloquist performances I have ever seen. Additionally, the video clips were of the highest quality - sound production, animation, editing and everything else (which is considerable) that goes into producing a video. The entire structure of the show was beyond amazing, integrating many facets of her multiple talents. In addition to clever costume changes - several during entertaining and audience-diverting movie clips, and one on-stage, mid-performance, flawlessly removing the top costume (the dilapidated, burned, ripped up one) and revealing, seemingly effortlessly, the glittery red number hiding beneath (the sexiest, most alluring costume of the evening), drawing a very imaginative contrast. The audience actually was heard to say "aaaahhhh," the same expression of wonder you might expect to hear at a fireworks display.
The nature of suffering and the punishments we observed suggest that the decisions we make while we are alive dictate the nature of our punishments in Hell after we are dead. In the 8th Circle of Hell, we find Sorcerers who used Magic to foresee the future by forbidden means. These Fortune Tellers, who attempted to "usurp God's prerogative by prying into the future" have "their heads twisted around on their bodies" so "these sinners are compelled to walk backward for eternity." Those who sought to penetrate the future cannot even see in front of themselves. And so it is! We create our own Hell by the decisions we make in life. Trying to put a positive spin on this dark topic, BenDeLaCreme says, "If we have the power to create our own Hell, think of what else we could create. We all make the hell we live in but we are in control and can change the course of our lives for the better. Yes, it's scary to realize we have a choice but if we don't act to improve our own lives, the only punishment you should expect is having to live your entire life with your insufferable self!"
Don't miss Inferno A-Go-Go, BenDeLaCreme's theatrical blend of burlesque, comedy, performance art, songs, ventriloquism, video clips, and music that provides an evening of entertainment about an eternity of suffering. If you haven't been on a vacation for a while, what better escape is there than to take a rollicking romp through the nine circles of Hell, using "Dante's Inferno" (the original travel brochure of the damned) as your guide.
BenDeLaCreme's Inferno A-Go-Go runs at The Laurie Beechman Theatre through August 19, 2016 (schedule varies). Tickets are $22.00 plus a $20.00 food/drink minimum. A $40.00 VIP ticket including priority seating and meet-and-greet is also available. To purchase tickets, call 212-352-3101 or visit www.SpinCycleNYC.com. For more information about BenDeLaCreme, visit www.BenDeLaCreme.com