by Charles C. Bales · August 13, 2014
Upright Citizens Brigade meets Def Poetry Jam meets comedy-folk duo Garfunkel & Oates in Cali Bulmash and Emily Lowinger’s genderf*ck cabaret Slam Up at the Celebration of Whimsy (aka The C.O.W.) on Clinton Street, part of FringeNYC 2014.
Cali (the one with the blue hair) is a poet and Emily (the one with the mohawk) is a comedian and guitarist. The two lifelong friends have combined their talents for an hour-long revue about the good, the bad, and the ugly of modern-day love and relationships.
Brash and brutally honest with each other, their audience, and themselves, they bare their hearts and souls in a series of impassioned songs, poems, and skits that nonetheless offer heaping doses of humor alongside the heartache. The deep connection and closeness between the two is evident from the start.
Ms. Bulmash is a gifted poet. Her spoken word interludes, alone on stage under the unrelenting spotlight, demonstrate a keen linguistic facility and ardor, particularly in “Loveless Love” — a love letter to herself.
Ms. Lowinger has a knack for pairing the ideal musical accompaniment to the pair’s interactions. She also has a lovely singing voice (on display in the tongue-firmly-in-cheek “Neither Here Nor There”) that is all too often passed over in favor of sing-song joke telling and onstage dialogue.
The best bits of Slam Up are when “CalEmity” play off each other, like the rhythmic poems “Slam Up” and “FriendShips” where they recite many of the same words at the same time. The song “Don’t Care What You Say,” about Cali’s disdain for Em’s current girlfriend, showcases the comedy partners’ deliciously cutting banter. “Don’t Care” is a highlight of the entire show and the most fully realized moment of their complementary abilities.
But the sketches in the middle of the show, unfortunately, aren’t as successful as the rest of Slam Up. When Ms. Lowinger appears costumed as Henry the Guitar, she gets laughs for sure. But even though the skits cover much of the same emotional territory as the lyrics of the songs and verses of the poems, they slow the pace of Slam Up down considerably and feel awkwardly sandwiched into a show focused on wordplay.
After all the misery and mockery, Slam Up ends on a positive note with “Good Kind of Love” as Cali and Emily ditch their 20-something ennui and imagine what it would be like to have healthy relationships full of love, kindness, and mutual respect. It’s a hopeful endpiece for two passionate performers full of potential.