by JK Clarke


Anyone who lived in New York over twenty years ago remembers keenly (and often fondly) the Times Square of old: a squalorous drag peopled with hustlers, dealers, con artists and working girls. Busted down movie marquees announced some of the most unappealing (though often amusing) sounding porn films in the adjoining theaters. Even for the most confident and sturdy, 42nd Street was a place that inspired fear, trepidation, or, at the very least, caution. If you were there to gawk you were a target; but if you were there for any other reason you probably had even bigger issues. One of the anchors of the area, at the corner of 42nd and Eighth Avenue was the palace of strip joints, The Show World Center, a three-story phantasmagoria of sex toys, video booths, live peep shows and the Triple Treat Theater, a live stage show featuring over-breasted porn stars on national tour. While it was the brightest spot of the area’s blight, this wasn’t the corporate jiggle joint of today. While some of the entertainers were appealing (most weren’t), they were disinterested, disheartened or destroyed. It had more in common with a DMV office than with a scene out of Showgirls.



So it’s safe to say no one passing through this peep show paladium would have imagined that it, some twenty-five years hence, would be the setting of a nostalgic burlesque parody, celebrating (and lampooning) the not-quite-so-venerable institute. But that’s just what’s happening a mere avenue and half away at the Laurie Beechman Theater in the West Bank Café. Nasty Drew and That Harder Boy in The Case of the Peepshow Phantom! (written and directed by Chris Harder) is a sendup of just about everything you can imagine: from the obvious Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys teen mystery books to 70s action movies to the 1960s Scooby Doo animated cartoon.


The thrust (yes, like every pun hammered over the head in the production, this pun intended) of the story is midwestern rubes Nasty Drew (Nasty Canasta) and That Harder Boy (Chris Harder) arrive in New York City of yore (the 1970s) and the first thing that happens to them (aside from smelling urine at every turn) is they are immediately drawn into a mystery: Peepshow palace owner Lucinda Embers (Pearls Daily) is about to lose her business because she can’t pay her rent—a ghost is chasing away all her customers! Not that it matters, but you can pretty much figure out the rest.


Though pure schmaltz, this is not your gay uncle’s camp. The stripteases leave little to the imagination and then jolt your imagination into places you hadn’t expected it to go. Of particular delight was sexy and coquette Pearls Daily who, whilst slinking out of her powder blue babydoll (the night we attended, September 23) was interrupted by an inebriate who was clearly suffering from election year anxiety, à propos of nothing, and shouted out some blather about a candidate. Daily looked at him with dead eyes, as would have a stripper of the era, and simply said, “No.” She either frightened him or his buddies enough that he was muzzled for the remainder of the program. And lithe Johnny Velour whose long-legged high kicks were almost too big for the stage was a dancing delight.


The Case of the Peepshow Phantom is a perfect show for loosening your tie for some friendly fun late on a Friday evening, ordering yet another martini and travelling back in time to a place where you might’ve found yourself doing things you still regret today . . . but with a smile on your face.


Nasty Drew and That Harder Boy in The Case of the Peepshow Phantom! shows tonight, October 7 and again Friday, October 21 at 10 PM at the Laurie Beechman Theater in the West Bank Café (407 West 42nd Street at Ninth Avenue).


Photos: Wilson Models