Butt Kapinski

Butt Kapinski
Adelaide Cabaret Festival. The Artspace. 14 - 16 June 2018.

Butt Kapinski is an extraordinary piece of satiric theatre based on the work of, and performed by, American theatre artist Deanna Fleysher.

Whilst embedded in conventional cabaret inter-active theatre and dramatic narrative forms, Deanna Fleysher practices her unique version, which is called ‘Naked Comedy’. Quoting from the Butt Kapinski web-site, ‘Naked Comedy is vulnerable and sublime. Use your bodies, use your hearts, make us laugh’. 

Butt Kapinski is just one of a number of shows that Deanna Fleysher and her colleagues have successfully developed and performed in the United States and throughout the world, winning numerous awards, including last year’s Adelaide Fringe Awards for ‘Weekly Award for Innovation’ and ‘Weekly Award for Best Comedy’.

Butt Kapinski is a satiric tribute to the film noir, the title referring to the detective Butt Kapinski, brilliantly played by Deanna Fleysher, who is the chief character and narrator, guiding the audience through this somewhat baffling at times murder mystery. It is the ‘bafflement’ of the audience, however, that partly makes this theatrical experience so enjoyable. This is primarily due to the bold and inventive use of ‘audience participation’.

The performance begins with a kind of prologue by Butt Kapinski who is dressed in rather an eccentric and bold manner, which includes a clown nose. Butt Kapinski is an eclectic combination of some of the great film and television detectives. This includes Sam Spade and Nick Charles, although I kept thinking of Peter Falk’s Columbo. I also kept thinking that at times Deanna Fleysher’s energetic and vibrant detective had flashes of Barry Humphries’ Les Patterson. Yes, the clown red nose meant more than a sign of circus comedy; like virtually all the major detectives cited, Butt Kapinski also likes a good drink.

I’m not going to give the plot away. However, if you are familiar with the genre of film noir then you can be assured that all the favoured characteristics and elements are there. You have a murder (maybe more), you have the detective (Butt Kapinski), you have a blonde (is she the femme fatale?), you even have a dog (is this The Thin Man’s ‘Astra’?). The characters speak in the specific language of most American film noir of the 1940s and 1950s – it is full of specific colourful and invented words, cynical, fast-paced, and full of wise-cracks, the domain of American comedy. If you are not familiar with this genre, then do yourself a favour and watch The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, The Thin Man, The Naked City, Double Indemnity, The Glass Key, Murder My Sweet, andThe Postman Always Rings Twice. Once hooked you will fall in love with this genre and come to see how huge its influence has been on modern drama in theatre, film, television, radio, and cabaret.

It is, however, the wonderful use of ‘audience participation’ that makes this production such a winner.

Like most people, I cringe when the issue of ‘audience participation’ surfaces in a show; it is usually cringe-making as the audience is manipulated. The picked-out-and-on individuals are generally made the butt of respective jokes. In this case, however, the audience fulfilled the vital role of playing all of the other characters in the drama. I am still marveling at how this was so brilliantly and successfully achieved by Deanna Fleysher as Butt Kapinski. It wasn’t in the least bit cringe-making or arduous – it was heaps of fun and the audience of which I was a member for this show lapped it all up with a vengeance.

I have never seen ‘audience participation’ work so well – sheer theatre magic. Highly Recommended.

Tony Knight

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