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Mad world
Leah Callahanís new cabaret musical
NINA MACLAUGHLIN

Cabaret doesnít take place in the afternoon. Itís an after-dark affair, no matinees, thank you. And Leah Callahan, formerly the singer for the art-rock bands Turkish Delight and Betwixt, is currently Bostonís underground cabaret queen, running evenings of sultry and subversive acts at the South End tranny bar Jacques, P.A.ís Lounge in Somerville, and Davis Squareís Johnny Dís. But her solo record, Even Sleepers, works best later still. Her melodies, elegant and menacing, suggest true late, long after the sit-coms have finished up, when the all-night kabob places get quiet, when doors click closed to facilitate dark transgression. Her latest project, a musical production based on Jean Genetís play The Maids, follows in that same vein. Mad Maids, which Callahan directs and wrote the music for with Jonathan Vincent, opens next Friday as part of the "Raw Bar" series at Jacques.

In Genetís play, two maids in 1930s France take turns acting as the Madame, engaging in a perverse interplay of power and submission, eroticism, ritual, and abuse. Callahanís musical reinterpretation is similarly twisted. "Some lyrics will be pretty shocking. Genet shocked his audience with the highly erotically charged relationship of power." And though she wrote Mad Maids from a modern female perspective, she aimed to stay true to Genetís absurdist style. "Weíre examining power and submission among women in society and throwing the imagery back at you. Weíre not trying to change anything, weíre just trying to look."

Callahan trusts that Genet would have approved of her production, which is being staged in underground bars between other cabaret acts including erotic poets Michaele Saintil and J*me, the vaudevillean Lindiís Radio, and Safari Attack, Melanie Joyful, and Nancy Lancy. "Thereís not too much high art. Someone can walk in off the street for a beer and enjoy it just as much as someone with a masterís degree in literature."

The inspiration for Mad Maids came from Callahanís experience as a solo musician. "I was frustrated with being poor and powerless. It seems like everyone who makes it has millionaire parents in the íburbs funding their music." But whereas Genet became a thief in his frustration with society ("You reject me, Iíll reject your morals"), Callahan found a way to bring together other artists who have to balance day jobs (she works in the office of a theater company) with art. She culled the Mad Maids crew from her various residencies around town; they include Miss Mary Mac, Chelsea Spear, Jonathan Vincent, David Wengertsman ("whoíll do anything to get in vinyl hot pants"), and Lucien Desar.

Callahan wasnít sure at first that they should call Mad Maids a musical. "It makes you think of Oklahoma! But I think it makes it that much cooler. Weíre giving fresh perspective to something that definitely needs it."

Mad Maids is presented May 14 and June 11 at 9 p.m. at Jacques Underground, 79 Broadway in Boston (617-426-8902), and May 29 and June 26 at 9 p.m. as part of "Les Cabaret des Enfants Terribles" at P.A.ís Lounge, 345 Somerville Avenue in Somerville (617-776-1557). Cover is $8 at Jacques and $5 at P.A.ís Lounge. For more information, visit www.leahcallahan.com


Issue Date: May 7 - 13, 2004
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