LAUGH OUT LOUD! If demented vaudeville is a religion, this man is a high priest!

Vivacious Vaudeville

If taste and decorum matter to you, you had better cut a wide berth around San Francisco’s Mason Street Theatre these days.

Frank Olivier has just set up shop there with his “Twisted Cabaret,” and the first thing jettisoned in this gooney lampoon is etiquette. This is a high-kitsch carnival spiked with toilet humor and stupid pet tricks, all shamelessly designed to make you go yuck!

Lest you think that’s an exaggeration, consider the facts: It’s hard to maintain a sense of propriety when Olivier drops his pants and lights his, ahem, emissions on fire. Then there’s the bit where he makes like an Indian yogi who proceeds to do the biologically improbable with some dental floss and his nasal cavity.

So if you’re likely to be offended, you may want to exercise some caution. On the other hand, anyone who longs to relive the shtick and saliva-filled atmosphere of the second grade need look no further. If there are moments when the wit wanes, there is never long to wait before the next laugh-out-loud pseudo-obscenity.

And there are times when the show exits the potty. The former Berkeley street performer knows his way around the classical vaudeville bag of tricks, from juggling to knife throwing. And the Café Flambé routine, in which Olivier gorges on fire shish kebab, should stun even the most jaded circusgoer.

And let’s be honest. These days it takes a little more than old-style sleight-of-hand to get a rise out of people. So Olivier obliges by cranking up the ick factor. The juggling-pin-in-the-mouth trick, for instance, turns into a Lewinsky joke. In another number, when blood starts spurting from his head, you’re not entirely sure it’s fake. And be forewarned that he’s not above animal-maiming jokes, and takes potshots at whatever strikes his fancy (including folks who live in San Jose).

The real acts of cruelty, however, are reserved for those who enter the ego danger zone known as the audience participation skit. If you’re not up for turning humiliation into an extreme sport, you may want to follow this reviewer’s example and stare purposefully at the floor when Olivier asks for volunteers.

If not, you may have to take the stage for a song-and-dance that crescendos in a spitting contest. Or, if you’re really lucky, you may be invited to bend over while a whip gets cracked in your direction. (If it helps, they say there are no small parts in the theater.)

Throughout it all, however, Olivier remains king of the freak show. After all, how many of us have mastered the art of twisting our tongues into a three-leaf clover? If demented vaudeville is a religion, this man is a high priest. And if you’re not above getting a little spit in your eye, you may become a devotee.”

-Karen D’Souza