The Schlep Sisters showcase their bagel and cream cheese headdresses. Photo by Norman Blake.
Bacon tassels were a-twirling on June 24, just in time for Shabbat. In a jaw-dropping production at the non-profit Sideshows by the Seashore theater, mere steps from the Coney Island boardwalk, the fabulous Schlep Sisters celebrated bad Jewish girls and their love of shellfish, Spam and nude dancing.
Pulling back the curtain leading to “Treyf: The Non-Kosher Burlesque Show,” was like going back to a time when the boardwalk teemed with snake charmers, freak shows and burlesque. The Schlep Sisters, otherwise known as “Minnie Tonka” and “Darlinda Just Darlinda,” started off the show in ‘70s disco costumes, shimmying and stripping each other down to precariously pasted tassels, all to the techno beats of “Party in My Pants,” by Israeli musician Apollo Braun, a remixed version of Heveinu Shalom Aleichem. Definitely not your mother’s Jewish burlesque.
Decked out in costumes channeling samba singer Carmen Miranda, the Schlep Sisters danced with bagels and cream cheese in their headdresses instead of fruit. Poking fun at the idea of Jewish guilt and self-loathing, Darlinda Just Darlinda lustily eyed a cheeseburger before succumbing to the call of meat and dairy. Treyf, indeed.
Besides the Schlep Sisters, the performance featured a who’s who of burlesque, including Clams Casino, Bambi the Mermaid, Raven Snook, and James Habacker impersonating Borscht Belt comedian Mel Frye. No novice to the burlesque scene, Habacker is the owner of the Slipper Room in New York City, and he emceed the show like a professional despite a number of intoxicated hecklers in the audience. Habacker as Frye, with his thick Lower East Side accent and pencil thin moustache, gave a shout-out to the Forward representatives in the audience, exclaiming that “there’s no left like the old left!”
Minnie Tonka, a dead-ringer for a young Barbra Streisand, wore the most original tassels of the night. Strutting and dancing across the stage in black leather boots and a body hugging black dress, she gyrated around with a package of bacon and a plastic piglet. With Joan Jett’s “I Hate Myself for Loving You” playing in the background, she undressed down to her bacon tassels, biting one off to the roaring laughter of the audience.
Having toured with Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad, the Schlep Sisters have built a reputation for Jewish burlesque and they produce several shows a year. “Jews really love it,” Darlinda Just Darlinda said. “They are so inspired and they think it’s really funny… and if burlesque can be PG we’re definitely PG.” As for non-Jews in the audience, especially in New York, “even if you’re not Jewish, you’re Jewish” she said, adding that the cheeky, but not crass attitude of the show keeps fans coming back.
Bambi the Mermaid, a crowd favorite, was the nude crustacean that could. Sauntering around the stage in a giant lobster costume, she tearfully shed her shell accompanied by a melancholy version of “All of Me.” To the cheering delight of the audience she flung one red foam leg and claw at a time across the stage, inching closer and closer to a giant bowl of butter. This being burlesque, the butter was actually gold glitter. By the end of the song, the multiple Golden Pastie Award winner was tukhes-first in sparkles, flashing a mischievous grin at the audience.
With the encouragement of Frye, the “Treyf” ladies brought out a tub and giggled and splashed around as gallons of wine were poured down their bodies and into cups passed out to the audience. Many a wine drinker found glitter floating in their glass.
In six months, the Schlep Sisters will present their fifth annual Menorah Horah, where the buxom Jewesses will present an ‘80s musical montage of the story of Hanukkah, complete with swords, shields and heels. Maybe there will even be a few carefully-placed latkes.