The Underbelly Diaries redux
nytheatre.com review by Rachel Grundy
August 18, 2011
Part standup show, part one-man play, The Underbelly Diaries Redux is definitely for adults only. Aaron Berg makes you laugh while cringing at the R-rated, humiliating stories of his time as an exotic dancer and stripper in Canada, while striving to make a wider, more serious point about our assumptions about all kinds of people—straight, gay, Jewish, black, and so on. The two sides of the show never quite merge, making it somewhat muddled, but there is no doubt that he entertains you regardless.
Berg begins dressed in traditional Orthodox Jewish garb, talking to the audience about the suffering of oppressed people, of the stereotypes we perpetuate about all kinds of minorities. He quickly transforms into a muscled, bald guy in sweatpants, taking us through the pros (and many cons) of taking steroids, focusing particularly on the effects on male performance (with hilarious results). The opening monologue confused me somewhat, as I wasn’t sure whether he was trying to make a serious point or a comic one.
However, the bulk of the rest of the show is a collection of stories about his life as a male stripper in Canada, which are shocking, disgusting (in places) and absolutely hysterical. He’s a natural standup comic, and delights in graphically recreating some of the seedier moments in his former career—a mutual masturbation scene with him, another stripper named Hot Chocolate (you can guess what he looked like) and the slightly predatory man who paid them both to be there is a particular highlight. He easily interacts with the audience, making eye contact for added effect and ad-libbing based on the audience reaction, which is an underrated skill that he has in spades. It’s definitely not for the easily offended, but if you enjoy a bit of R-rated comedy you will be falling off your seat, as I was.
The set is very simple—a chair; a bar, which doubles as a changing room in one scene; and projections on the wall illustrating time and place—as well as American translations of the places he talks about in Ontario, which are usually described as a crappier version of a not-so-great town in the U.S.
However, the show ends by coming back to Berg’s original more serious point—and what that exact point is eluded me. He draws comparisons between being the only Jewish stripper in Ontario with assumptions about race, or creed, or religious belief, and I couldn’t quite make the leap with him. Maybe the show needs a little more development to marry the two aspects together more seamlessly, or maybe I was just not understanding where others might. Regardless, Aaron Berg is a very funny man.