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Lost, lonely but boldly independent, a troop of women took over the entertainment portion of Friday evening at Cuban Revolution Restaurant in Olneyville.

Burlesque dancers, sideshow acts, singers and comedians by night, these performers were students in Kristen van Liew's class "Cabaret and the Avant Garde," offered at Rhode Island School of Design Wintersession.

In "RISD Takes Chifferobe: Lost, Lonely and Vicious," the women converted the restaurant into a dinner-theater cabaret for one night. They began with a variety of sideshow acts, such as a life-size doll or a girl singing from a swing in the middle of the restaurant.

Before the performances began, students in flapper dresses circled the tables passing out cupcakes and paper fortune cookies with predictions such as "Confucius say: Man who fight with wife all day get no piece at night."

This was a take on the cigarette girls found in old-fashioned nightclubs, said Sofia Poe, a student in the class and a cupcake distributer. It was an act designed to "get the audience warmed up" for the night's show, she added.

Interspersed with performances by the students were those by Ms. Wensday, a local singer, masquerading as her alter ego Mademoiselle Mercredi.

Wensday's romantic but innocuous melodies, in English, French and Spanish, were ideal dinner theater fare — pleasing to the ear but not loud or distinctive enough to derail serious conversation.

But for the audience members who came just to see the show, her performance began to drag near the beginning of her second appearance onstage and went on far longer than needed.

Van Liew performs regularly around Providence as her alter ego, Kristen Minsky, and was recognized as one of 10 people to watch in 2011 by Providence Monthly magazine.

But for this class, she "basically assumed the role of groundskeeper," she said.  The students had creative control of their individual performances.

Though there was no theme or message imposed from above, many of the students explored "body politics" and "the spheres women are relegated to," van Liew said.

In one, a girl dressed as a bride sang a song about wanting to step out of her sheltered life, before tearing off her gown to reveal black lingerie. But her performance was calculated to be desperate and awkward, van Liew said, and lost any sex appeal as a result.

Emily Oliveira, a sophomore at RISD, performed an act of solo poetry, which she said was inspired by a dress she found. In the act, she took on the role of a bitter and defeated old woman haranguing her husband.

Oliveira, whose focus is in illustration, said she took the class in part because of her interest in performance art. But, she said, it was also "just self-indulgent fun."

All nine of the students in the class were women, though van Liew said this was not intentional. But it did allow for "a lot of female ritual moments in the process of getting the performance together," she said.

"It felt a little more like a community of women," Oliveira said. "We were on the same wavelength about a lot of stuff."



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