Michael Doucett
Enthusiastic descriptions of Teatro ZinZanni appear in nearly all of Seattle's tourist guides. Seattle Premier Attractions provides a typical example: "It is a three-hour whirlwind of international cirque, comedy, and cabaret artists all served up with a scrumptious multi-course feast and elegant libations." On the way to a performance of Welcome to Wonderland, which runs through February 26, my Lyft driver said, "I saw a thing there 12 years ago, and I gotta say, they put on one helluva show."

For each of these funny, campy, acrobatic dinner-theater performances, there are two rings of activity. General-admission ticket holders share large booths in the outer ring. A stage for live musicians also lives out there. Performers occupy the inner ring, along with guests who sit at special tables. The intensity and probability of audience participation increases the closer you sit to the inner ring.

I was jammed into a booth with two middle-aged couples on a date and an elderly couple who were wearing football jerseys. The band played spy jazz. Muscular performers shouldered giant spoons like rifles and patrolled the grounds. Sequins and velvet covered everything. It was clear we were supposed to be in some kind of drama kid version of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.

A guy named Sam from Kennewick sat square-jawed at one of the center tables. Most of the audience looked like suburban types—moms, dads, and normie undergrads. The audience ordered drinks with whimsical names like "No Thyme to Waste" and "Mad Hatter's Tea Party" and ate crab-stuffed chicken breasts. It was three hours of beautiful sex bunnies coaxing adults to eat and drink—an elaborate, expensive version of the game where you convince a baby to eat the puree at the end of a spoon by turning it into an airplane. Open up for mommy!

Once the show begins, two hetero normies named "Lewis" and "Carol" (Duo Madrona) fall down Alice's rabbit hole and assimilate to the druggy, music-filled circus culture they find down there. They get loopy on vaped opioids, narrowly escape the Red Queen's battle-ax, and ultimately become one mass of mutually supportive muscle swinging mid-heaven on the trapeze. Turns out they were sensual circus artists the whole time, they only needed a traipse through Wonderland to discover their wonderful, non-normie selves. The show is a sanitized, albeit distorted, portal to Seattle's sex-positive, queer as fuck, occasionally-drug-inflected culture.

Kevin Kent, who is very fucking funny, plays the Red Queen's servant. Even as he hilariously humiliates audience members (a soul patch was relentlessly and rightfully criticized during the performance I saw), he's never mean. His improvisational skills are natural and true, and they're often candy-coated critiques of white-bread masculinity.

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And yet, a lot of the gags are based on the notion that it's funny when men wear clothes that women usually wear or that expressions of fabulous gayness are so overwhelming that you can only laugh in response. So the jokes come at the expense of gay culture, but... the gays are getting paid, and I guess it's better to have suburbanites laughing along with you than throwing rocks.

The Red Queen, aka Lady Rizo (aka Amelia Zirin-Brown), is a fiery, besequined nightmare who would make an okay understudy for Lady Gaga. Before the soup is served, she runs around the room and spanks everybody. She also sings a lot, and between her songs she works in subtle jabs at the burbs, mentioning Puyallup and gentrification in Belltown. How risqué! And yet, nearly every song she sings comes straight from the classic radio dial. My conservative boomer uncle would love that shit. recommended