‘Snake Oil, Holy Water and Sweet Tea’ at Gallery O

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It may have been chilly temperature-wise in the courtyard next to Gallery O on H St., N.E. last Saturday evening but the performers kept the evening hot, hot, hot. Snake Oil, Holy Water and Sweet Tea was a collaboration of Gallery O, Palace Productions and Cirque du Rouge, celebrating New Orleans’ noir. Inside the gallery are photos, paintings and sculptures of swamp creatures and voodoo ceremonies while outside burlesque, sideshow and variety performers laissez les bon temps rouler.

Nona Narcisse. Photo by Neil Brandvold.
Nona Narcisse. Photo by Neil Brandvold.

Opening the burlesque/variety part of the evening was Mavi Clay, hair and skin dyed indigo, twin scimitars balanced on her head while she bellydanced.  The next performer, Brian Wendell Morton prefers the term “august liar” to magician. He told some pretty powerful lies as he made an egg appear and disappear from a small black vevet bag while performing closeup and in the round. The one advantage to being outside on this chilly evening was fire! Since the old Palace of Wonders closed there hasn’t really been a venue in DC for fire performers so it was pretty exciting to see Malibu run fire up her arm and eat it. Burlesquer Nona Narcisse dressed in an all white Southern belle gown performed a classic striptease.

The Dixie Power Trio played between variety sets, their accordion-fueled Zydeco sound bouncing off the walls of the courtyard. The neighboring building had apparently once been an Uneeda Biscuit factory, the paint faded but still visible – ‘’By land or by sea, I’ll bet you agree Uneeda Biscuit,” which just added to the retro charm of the evening.

Tyler Fire. Photo by Elias Monn.
Tyler Fire. Photo by Elias Monn.

The second act started up with Tyler Fire who was one of the MCs of the evening and a sword swallower at Coney Island! Tyler did some pretty impressive sword swallowing, along with a human blockhead number that cleverly sequed into a mental floss number. Then he spit fire! There’s something primally thrilling to see a performer spit a cloud of fire from a lit torch.

snake oil poster (1)The third and final set of the evening opened with our other MC, or, as she prefers, Femme Cee, burlesque stalwart Short Staxx performing a graveside number to the Rolling Stones’ “Painted Black.” Staxx is a mistress of broad physical humor which she plied working both traditional pasties with tassels as well as “assels” – uh huh, they’re what and where you’re thinking. Keeping that primal fire vibe going Miss Joule performed with fire batons while decked out in cavewoman gear. Fire followed fire with Malibu returning to spin poi.

Nona Narcisse returned in another gown to make Scarlett O’ Hara green with envy and performed a steampunk-themed number involving a mysterious red elixir and its ecdysiastic effects on her set to Nina Simone’s cover of “House of the Rising Sun.” Our “august liar” Mr. Morton once again deceived us with his humorous take on a classic parlour card trick. Miss Joule, who’s an awesome hooper, upped the stakes using a fire hoop. Sword swallowers always have the best setups for their acts as they explain exactly how dangerous what they’re doing is. Charon Henning told us to watch carefully as the sword would dance to the beat of her heart once she had swallowed it and sure enough once it was “down the hatch without a scratch,” we could see the hilt twitch. To keep everything balanced Mavi Clay closed the evening out, this time balancing skulls on her head.

The visual/hanging art portion of Snake Oil, Holy Water and Sweet Tea remains up at  Gallery O – 1354 H Street, NE, in Washington, DC. Call  (202) 213-2465 for more information and for gallery hours.