The owner of a Long Island marketing company turned away from his new fiancé and gestured toward me during one of the variety of intermissions occuring in a recent performance of “Cocktail Magique” and proclaimed: “If only I had seen this place before I did my basement.”
The latest transformation of the Wyckoff Avenue bar might surprise armchair historians of storefronts past who recall the home of the bucolic, Canadian-themed poutine spot UpNorth or the Gradient, the similarly pastel-colored but “Female-Owned” brunch spot that would replace it before closing doors in the early pandemic. Of these, Austin McCormick’s Company XIV might be the location’s first renter to think of bathing the entrance in clouds of incense or attaching pseudo-taxidermied heads of giraffes or zebras on the wall. McCormick, a choreographer who graduated from Julliard a decade or two ago and whose dance company opened its first location on Troutman Street in 2016, has become something of a local specialist in satisfying a grab bag of neo-”baroque” sensibilities; “Cocktail Magique” is perhaps his most overtly mainstream production yet, a mirage of Las Vegas appearing suddenly in Bushwick.
The crowd of some sixty people appearing on a recent showing felt typical; nervous Manhattanites mingled with more relaxed businessmen from Long Island, stretched out on the web of assembled leather-like couches and high chairs left over from bars past. The number is considerably fewer than can fit in his far more cavernous Company XIV home down the street, where the troupe has been busy simultaneously performing his “Nutcracker Rouge” for the holiday season. For a show about making drinks, the triage works and makes “Cocktail Magique” feel as animated as a trivia night at a well-liked corner bar. Indeed, the avuncular campy tone of Sam Urdang, the show’s tall, bald and thin-mustached master of ceremonies, and occasional juggler, leans more into the subdued lingua franca of a reader of trivia cards than the hipster houdini he is dressed as.
Followers of Company XIV’s shtick will find plenty familiar in the largely plotless, if mostly entertaining series of baroque costumed performances that the latest show from McCormick runs through, recalling the note from the Times’ dance desk over a decade ago that goes: “far less interested in the particularity of movement than in a rambunctious theatricality.” The theatricality, indeed, remains rambunctious. First, he brings in schmaltzy, circus barker-like dancers, and then they are replaced by the feathers and banana-shaped skirts of Josephine Baker’s Paris and then these too are switched out. The one aesthetic category McCormick’s revue seems to avoid is steampunk, an arresting tantalizing commitment to the bit. Earlier runs of the show included some impressive sword-swallowing, but performances these days switch that bit out with mildly less impressive, if remarkably capable, spectacle of a balloon swallower.
And so on. As McCormick puts in an interview with a trade website that appeared shortly after the debut run of “Cocktail Magique,” these shows are most directly about “integrating service into my productions,” a feat that is delivered with mixed results. After delivering a somewhat underwhelming college-level warning about hydration — an experience I’ve somehow never experienced at far more dangerous bottomless brunches — the first of the show’s three or four drinks of the night, depending on the value of your ticket, begin flowing out of a device in Urdang’s sleeve. This is fun to watch, even as it goes on a bit long in order to fill out some thirty or sixty glasses. The troupe’s members serve some of the others themselves, often out of glasses situated dramatically on the top of large serving plates carried, with remarkable grace, on their heads. A simple bottle of cheap champagne, refilled copiously in whatever mechanism magique would allow, would have been more appreciated for the price of any ticket that ranges from $125 for single seats, to over $695 for paired seats and various upgrades.
The show’s somewhat recurrent carnival barker theme returns mid-way when another dancer trots onto the stage, tap dancing in a bucket in order to introduce the show’s fried chicken shaped pieces of ice cream; a sign advertises that they are coated with “crushed cornflakes” and are made of “chocolate covered cookie ‘bone.’” Another dancer, wearing a paper cap, a bright red vest and a codpiece in the shape of a chicken head begins to grind vigorously while these are handed out. They taste as good and as realistically chilly as anything you might find in Bushwick, but fail to exactly answer the question of why they exist. Ditto the single, vegan dumplings that are handed out cafeteria-style in small pocket-sized plates. No dumpling-themed dancers carrying enormous chopsticks, however.
“Cocktail Magique” is happening Thursday-Sunday at 17 Wyckoff Avenue. Find tickets here.
Images provided by Company XIV.
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