‘Soiled Dove’ evokes S.F.’s wild Barbary Coast days 

click to enlarge San Francisco’s bawdy Barbary Coast era comes alive in Vau de Vire Society's “The Soiled Dove." - COURTESY MARCO SANCHEZ”
  • COURTESY MARCO SANCHEZ”
  • San Francisco’s bawdy Barbary Coast era comes alive in Vau de Vire Society's “The Soiled Dove."
Fans of interactive theater and living history who want to commune with their inner Edwardian in a raucous, Barbary Coast bordello atmosphere need look no farther than Vau de Vire Society’s “The Soiled Dove.”

A dinner-entertainment event that’s similar to – but more raunchy and informal – than the late, lamented Teatro ZinZanni, “Dove” is less about spectacle and more about ambiance.

The brainchild of local impresarios Mike and Shannon Gaines, who founded VdV in 1997, the event comprises a four-course meal, courtesy of Work of Art, served sporadically throughout a lively two and a half hours.

Guests, who stand at small, high tables (there are also some couches along the walls), eat, drink, flirt with the 40 or so performers (mostly women in varied bodice-and-garter ensembles, who mingle among the crowd) and watch circus-style acts and sexy dances (choreographed by Shannon Gaines) that take place on a small stage, on table tops, on the bar and just about every place else in InnerMission/Cellspace, a 10,000-square-foot, multi-level Mission District warehouse that’s been jazzed up with chandeliers, low light and a suggestion of an old Western street scene on an upper level.

“We’ve been enamored with the Barbary Coast since moving to San Francisco,” says Mike Gaines. The idea for “The Soiled Dove” — a name discovered during

research, referring to the harlots of the era – started when they walked along the Embarcadero reading fragments of waterfront history on pavement placards. The project has been in the planning stages for years. “The reality of that time is crazier than fiction!” exclaims Gaines.

The performers, all members of VdV’s ongoing troupe, some of them veterans of Cirque du Soleil, are accompanied by two local musical ensembles: Jazz Mafia, whose two sets are mostly drawn from their album “Tales from the Barbary Coast,” and the quartet Squid Inc., which deconstructs modern pop hits.

The opening night crowd of approximately 160, almost all in elaborate period costume, watched entertainment that included a contortionist, a tissu act, aerial hoops, trapeze work, skits (an attempted impromptu hanging, among others), pole dances and fan dances, with a master of ceremonies at the helm.

Although the Gaineses, who’ve been operating the venue for five years, expected to be there for 10, the landlord recently sold it. VdV, which also produces the annual Edwardian Ball (Jan. 16 and 17 at the Regency Ballroom), wants to continue its unique dinner theater concept and is currently looking for a similar-sized space.

IF YOU GO

The Soiled Dove

Presented by Vau de Vire Society

Where: InnerMission-Cellspace, 633 Florida St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Dec.11-13

Tickets: $120 (includes multi-course dinner)

Contact: (415) 310-9238, TheSoiledDove.com

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About The Author

Jean Schiffman

Jean Schiffman

Bio:
Jean Schiffman is a freelance arts writer specializing in theatre. Some of her short stories and personal essays have been published in newspapers and small literary magazines. She is an occasional book copy editor and also has a background in stage acting. Her book “The Working Actor’s Toolkit” was published... more
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