Two women, dressed in iconic (and ironic) Catholic school girl costume—pleated black skirts (hemmed eight inches above the knee), white button-down shirts with red satin ties, striped tube socks, chunky heeled black shoes—stood side by side, clutching an open Bible. The cut of their skirts afforded a clear view of the performers’ thighs—chiseled, bulging musculature more commonly associated with professional cyclists and gymnasts than cabaret acts. Then the Night Ranger kicked in—Sister Christian oh the time has come—in all its mid-80s power-ballad glory, and the Wau Wau Sisters’ athletic circus of the risqué had begun. Before the final chorus had settled across the packed house at Bard’s Spiegeltent on that balmy July evening, the Sisters had stripped (each other) to their underwear in an acrobatic burlesque that was part Pilobolus, part hilarity, part Scores, part blasphemy. Communion wafers, cigarettes, and a chalice were all employed as props in a piece that ended with a profane reenactment of the crucifixion. The crowd hooted and roared. And that was just the opening number.
The Sisters (Adrienne Truscott and Tanya Gagné) went on to play guitars and sing bawdy, yet never tawdry, tunes, sometimes seated on each other’s shoulders and in other, yogic configurations. They cracked one-liners lampooning their on-stage personas—half sisters from a trailer park who had seen too much time in the back seat of a ’78 Buick with the local boys, and possibly each other—and performed a breathtaking pas de deux on the trapeze.
Just before intermission, they coaxed a couple of male volunteers on to the stage. Now, who doesn’t know it’s a bad idea to get onstage with a seasoned performer (or two)? When the magician strolls into the audience looking for an assistant, or the hypnotists asks for a volunteer to turn into a clucking chicken, we slink down in our seats, hoping to be spared. But when I was asked to join the Wau Wau Sisters on stage, I bounded out of my seat without a second thought.
We all cherish delusions about ourselves. One of mine: That I enjoy being onstage and that I’m possessed of the charisma of Tom Jones circa 1968. In fact, I have the stage presence of a sofa—stolid, unsmiling, praying someone will throw a duvet over me to hide my sorrowful stains—and I’m dreadfully fearful in the footlights. In other words, a near-perfect foil for the Wau Wau Sisters.
After they dressed Matt and me in our cowgirl outfits (see grainy Polaroid), the four of us performed an acrobatic square dance, alternating between dosie-dos and varieties of postures where the Sisters suspended Matt and me in the air by their feet and arms and vice-versa. (I wouldn’t doubt the Sister I performed with could bench press all 205 pounds of me.) All the while, between flashing wide smiles for the audience, my dancing partner kept asking me, “How are you doing?” with a concerned look on her face. I must have looked pale. Other than my lackluster dancing prowess, having had only a handful of peanuts and half a bottle of Chardonnay for dinner, and being a general neurotic mess onstage, I was fine. Just curious as to when they’d let me get off the stage. Wondering if I’d think better of it next time. Probably not—the lure of the spotlight is blinding.