By Beatrice Williams-Rude
A trip through the nine circles of hell as envisioned by Dante—although not exactly as he conceived them—is delighting audiences at the Laurie Beechman Theatre.
Ben DeLa Creme’s Inferno a Go-Go is uproariously funny as well as surreptitiously thought-provoking. It combines burlesque and high comedy. A drag queen who has a cult following—deservedly—Ben DeLa Creme, acting as our Virgil, gives a high energy performance that never flags and keeps the audience engaged and mostly laughing throughout. As Virgil showed Dante through the Infermo, Ben DeLa Creme is our hilarious besequined tour guide.
The Inferno section of Dante’s Divine Comedy is the roadmap but the “sinners” confined to the various circles are sometimes Dante-esque and sometimes more modern.
Ben DeLaCreme has great fun poking fun at various aspects of religion, mostly about the unbaptized—virtuous people who lived before Christ, infants who died before they could be baptized, to whom he kept referring. The segment on suicides was poignant. Politics are also front and center.
A particularly pithy section was the one on heretics, who, and how they are identified, and how anyone questioning the established authority, any established authority, can be deemed a heretic.
This is a one-person show that doesn’t seem like one. The special effects are spectacular: puppets, video dioramas, changes in costumes. Our Virgil sings and dances. The script, with its references to Greek mythology—the river Styx, Charon, Cerberus—French Existentialism and Neil De Grasse Tyson, assumes a highly literate audience.
The theme is: “What is Hell?” Among the examples is a cruise ship spoofing travel brochures and news stories of vessels run amuck.
The answer to the repeated question of what is hell is provided by our rhinestone-clad Virgil–with bouncy music–references Sartre’s “Hell is other people” but goes on to note that Dante’s people in hell were in situations similar to their earthly positions and goes on to explain that hell is what we create for ourselves.
It’s impossible to convey how much fun the audience was having: laughing, clapping hands in time to the music and ignoring the food. (This is a dinner theater.)
Before the show started the sound level was so high it was difficult to converse. However, every word in the show could be heard and understood. The sound engineer was a genius.
Ben DeLa Creme in addition to acting, singing and dancing, conceived, directed and created the props, puppets, video dioramas. The costumes were by Daniel Helman; video editing by Shane Wahlund; sound design and stage management by Kevin Heard; dramaturgy by Scott Shoemaker and the most effective original music, the final number, by Major Scales. The various parodies of well-known music were rewritten by BenDeLa Creme.
Inferno a Go-Go will be at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, 407 West Forty-Second Street through August 19. The venue is slightly west of Ninth Ave. and is on the level below the West Bank Café through which one must pass to reach the theater.