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Merle Haggard’s Dirty Dog | Village Voice


Merle Haggard’s Dirty Dog


Two women in pink leotards leap onto hanging trapezes. They perch on the bars and strum guitars. Then they toss aside the guitars, curl themselves around the ropes, and hang upside down by their ankles—all with the timing and flourish of an airborne Esther Williams.

Every Monday night since last September, the Wau Wau Sisters—played by Tanya Gagné and Adrienne Truscott—have been dominating the front room at Williamsburg’s Galapagos. The duo’s command over the large crowd is no surprise. They are, after all, two scantily clad young ladies crooning dirty songs. They are also, however, highly skilled circus performers and aerialists who unleash their lewd material with great cheer and singular archness. Their sexy-girl costumes, such as ’60s-style bikinis made out of candy hearts, only underscore the duo’s muscularity and entertaining ways.

The Wau Waus’ repertory of original tunes includes lyrics such as the plaintively sung “I’m your black cloud in a dress, your leaky faucet mess” and “We’d like to take you to a stripper’s bar and suck you in the back of a car.” Synchronized tricks—flips, headstands, and splits—are the backbone of the acrobats’ show. Ruffled panties therefore prevail. In some acts, the decorated derriere turns up as a character. For Gagné and Truscott, each new set means the reincarnation of their invented personae, such as the Cuntry Girls, the Red Ladies, or the Snack Ladies—the last of whom serve deviled eggs to the audience.

Gagné and Truscott met in 1996 when Truscott was roustabouting for Jennifer Miller’s Circus Amok, in which Gagné was performing. Circus Amok spawned Lava, which both women joined. Lava, now an Obie- and Bessie-award-winning all-female circus troupe, is the only other company with whom Gagné and Truscott perform. But don’t expect to see anything like the clean lines of Lava from the character-driven Wau Wau Sisters, who favor pink wigs, fishnet stockings, high heels, and red lipstick.

Gagné and Truscott realized their common interests and wardrobe items on an airplane flight in 1999, and began brainstorming ideas and characters. They first performed as the Wau Wau Sisters at Galapagos in May 2000, as an experiment. “Wau Wau,” the pair explains, means “woof woof” in German. “We also heard that it’s the name of Merle Haggard’s dog and means ‘doll’ in Chinese,” Truscott adds. The May show did so well that Robert Elmes, the owner and programmer of Galapagos, had them back for a Monday night gig in July. So many people came and liked the show that, after a summer break, Elmes booked them through this May.

As a Wau Wau Sister, “I feel I can do anything,” Truscott says. “We’ve set up a context where anything is possible.” Gagné adds: “Wearing matching outfits, we both feel pretty invincible. It allows us to do things we might not do otherwise.” MGM musicals, Mae West’s plays, Dancenoise, Kathleen Hanna’s band Le Tigre, and Deborah Hay’s book My Body, The Buddhist are some of the duo’s influences.

Local twenty- and thirtysomethings form most of the large, attentive crowd, but it’s not uncommon to see tourists flipping through guidebooks while chatting in French, German, or Japanese. The evening, which is free, lasts about two hours and consists of four to five sets. Each set might have one to three acts, lasting anywhere from five to 15 minutes. Thanks to elaborate costume and prop changes, the breaks are longer than the sets and thus, in good vaudeville fashion, build up anticipation for the Sisters’ next appearance. Regulars see at least one new act every week. Vince Ricci, 31, of Williamsburg, has caught the Wau Wau Sisters five times. He especially enjoys their connection to the crowd. “The audience is titillating them,” he says, “as much as they’re titillating the audience.”

The Wau Wau Sisters perform every Monday night at 10 p.m. at Galapagos, 70 North 6th Street, between Kent and Wythe streets, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 718-782-5188.

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