Butt Kapinski Lampoons the Private Dick

There are immersive shows and then there is Butt Kapinski, Deanna Fleysher’s hilarious gender-bending flip of infamous fictional private dicks, such as Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, where the audience is integral to the shenanigans.

Butt Kapinski might seem like your average whiskey-slugging, hard-boiled private investigator who lurks in constant shadows while wearing a trench coat and fedora. But not is all as it seems.

There’s a lamp fixed to Kapinski’s back to complete the film-noir look while the private investigator’s exaggerated lisp means this ain’t a smooth talking Humphrey Bogart-like character that would impress whatever femme fatale might cross this gumshoe’s path. Instead, Kapinski is a send-up of classic noir tropes by American actor and comedian Deanna Fleysher.

“I’m a lifelong fan of film noir and the private eye genre,” Fleysher says of Butt Kapinski’s origins. “The character came first. The character developed on one train of my performance and my interest in immersive, interactive kind of [theatre] developed on a parallel track. At some point it made sense to really put them together.

“I’m attracted to juxtaposition,” she says. “There’s a term in noir, chiaroscuro; the contrast of light and dark as a cinematic technique. The way I look at the world is very chiaroscuro.”

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Fleysher, who also directed and co-wrote the polarising show Red Bastard, says she grew up loving and identifying with the voice of men, especially that of crime writer Raymond Chandler and his most famous character Philip Marlowe, who was immortalised on-screen by Humphrey Bogart in Howard Hawks’ 1946 classic The Big Sleep.

“What does it mean when a woman loves the narrative voice of a man, and not just a man but a sexist macho man? It creates a very complicated space to be in,” she says. “I think the show comes from the confusion that I’ve always experienced loving the words and voice of a man and also feeling left out from that.”

The immersive and interactive nature of Butt Kapinski means that even though there are lines and situations that are switched in and out of each show, ultimately, it’s the character’s spontaneous interaction with the audience that drives the performance.

“It’s important at the beginning of a show to establish some ground rules and establish the world,” she says. “I do switch things around a little bit depending on what I feel like and what the audience feels like. I also think that I, like all of us, are continually affected by current events and what’s going on in the world. I think that is certainly having an effect on how the show is evolving.”

She means Trump, the new president of the United States, who was battling to become the Republican nominee when Fleysher was in Adelaide for the Fringe last year.

“All my new Australian friends were coming up to me, ‘Oh so Donald Trump, right? Donald Trump!’ I was like, ‘You guys are crazy. Everybody is overreacting; he’s not going to be the nominee.’ I didn’t even think he was going to be the Republican nominee. As my tour in Australia continued I just had to eat my words, you know? Then, of course, I didn’t think he would be president, so it’s been a horror.”

Butt Kapinski
Campanile, Garden of Unearthly Delights
Performing until Saturday, March 19
adelaidefringe.com.au

Photography: Mihaela Bodlovic

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