By Joseph Myers, Staff Writer
Dante Alighieri’s “Inferno” is a classic poem that most students have encountered in their academic career (which some have read and some have Sparknoted), but how does this 14th century text relate to drag, camp and the human condition in 2016? Given the nature of current events, there are plenty of parallels between Dante’s vision of Hell and 2016, unfortunately. Drag performer BenDeLaCreme, (DeLa for short) of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” fame, wrote and stars in “Inferno-a-Go-Go,” a cabaret exploring the intersections between “Inferno” and present-day United States.
BenDeLaCreme, who is self-described as “terminally delightful,” is so bubbly and charming that she creates a perfect balance between humor and gravity of a show literally set in Hell. She begins the show by making a grand entrance in a fiery red and yellow two-piece bikini covered in fringe and sings an original 60’s-go-go-inspired number introducing the theme of the show. We thus begin our journey to Hell, which conveniently takes place on a luxury cruise line that has ports in each ring of Hell. We set sail as DeLa performs “Party in the Hel(l)”, a spoof on Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA.”
As we journey through each ring of Hell we meet various inhabitants, all portrayed by DeLa herself using projected video of pre-recorded footage. DeLa also shows off her ventriloquy chops by creating both comic and serious characters using puppets. We meet exorbitantly wealthy lushes being punished for gluttony, gay men voguing on a beach being punished for sodomy and bigoted centaurs representing the heretics. While the humor and camp are very high here, there is strong statement that DeLa is making about current American politics using these over-the-top characters.
As the journey continues, we see the souls of people who have committed suicide that are trapped inside trees for eternity. It is a shocking change in tone from the rest of the show; DeLa presented this scene with so much sincerity and honesty that her powerful performance left the audience totally silent. BenDeLaCreme uses both humor and gravity to explore the theme of passing judgement and concludes that it is not our business to be judging and condemning others.
The set and costumes were pleasantly cheesy, with whimsically colorful scenes and outfits serving the perfect amount of camp to hearken back to the essence of drag. DeLa delivers both the humorous parts of the show and the darker parts with charisma and class.
“Inferno-a-Go-Go” is a drag show unlike any other–it offers camp, song parodies and even ventriloquy while being incredibly thought-provoking. Despite BenDeLaCreme’s retro aesthetic, she is the future of drag, breathing new life into it and allowing drag to jump-start conversations about political and social issues. “Inferno-a-Go-Go” satisfies both comedy enthusiasts as well as those that want to be challenged by their art, and one thing is certain about the production: it is a well-rounded, well-constructed work of art.
“Inferno-a-Go-Go” is currently playing at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, 407 W 42nd St. Tickets can be purchased here.