In 1868, The New York Times published an article decrying the scourge of burlesque: “Look at the sensual exhibitions of the feminine form! Listen to the salacious music! See the appeals to the sensational and the panderings to the base and vulgar elements of human nature! Hear the gross innuendo and notice the foul suggestion!” (Who knew the Gray Lady could get so hot and bothered?) Though that clip’s rather more than a century old, it couldn’t provide a better précis of the charms of the Wau Wau Sisters’ hour-long show, an incestuous concatenation of trapeze, striptease, country music, and kinky acrobatics. While the costume and soundtrack may have altered since the 1860s, the art of theatrical titillation apparently hasn’t changed so much.
In the first number, for example, Adrienne Truscott (the blonde) and Tanya Gagné (the brunette) skip onto the stage attired in Catholic schoolgirl uniforms. As the immortal strains of Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” play, the ladies perform gymnastics, simulate sex acts, and disrobe down to brassieres, briefs, and kneesocks. Then Gagné, smiling wickedly, crucifies Truscott, hammering the nails with the heel of a discarded mary jane. The audience, fizzy with “Wau Wau–tinis” (pink champagne and a maraschino cherry) and complimentary lollipops, lavishly applauds.
Even such unbuttoned impishness might pall after a while—the siblings have typically limited themselves to 20-minute nightclub sets—but the Wau Waus and director Trip Cullman have the good sense to keep the evening short, the costumes shorter, and the variety acts varied. It’s Weimar cabaret meets sapphic slumber party. Nor do they worry their pretty little heads about coherence or meaning. A Dalí-esque dance, labeled “the artistic segment of the show,” features the women clad as rainstorms, or perhaps jellyfish. It segues into a guitar-strummed diptych that includes the sacrilegious ditty “Jesus Is Coming.” An uncouth shower scene—during which a glitter-topped tampon landed in the lap of The New York Sun‘s drama critic—leads into a trapeze routine.
It may be that aerial act that sets the Wau Waus apart from many of their neo-vaudevillian peers. Sure, they’ve got the ironic and the naughty down pat (twin panties inscribed, “fuck” and “yeah,” tanks reading, “I love t&a”), but they have the athletic chops to match. As they swing and fling themselves over and around each other, the lurid chat and the Lurex dresses seem so much lagniappe—just another maraschino cherry crowding the champagne.