Psychodrag, Tennessee Drag, and a Sincere Drag
The Dina Martina Christmas Show
Through Dec 31.
Dina Martina has a long history with The Stranger. This paper has been her staunch booster and its writers have fasted, prayed, and undertaken vision quests to find new superlatives with which to praise her radioactive genius. I had never seen a full-length Dina show and was a little suspicious of the gushy rivers of ink we sent her way—it was time, I felt, for an honest reevaluation of Dina Martina and her creator, Grady West. I steeled myself to watch with critical eyes, brave the displeasure of her rabid fans, and call it like I saw it.
The verdict? She's freaking incredible.
A sixth-string "celebrity" performing a solo Christmas song-and-dance show is sad; warp that celebrity beyond the ken of clinical psychology and you've got the heartbreakingly hilarious Dina Martina. An atonal crooner with the grace of a hippo on roller skates, she showers the stage with malapropisms, slips references to serial killers into Christmas carols, and punctuates her psychedelic interviews with audience members—who squirm and squeal with delight—by doling out gifts like Cheetos-flavored lip balm.
Did my eyes glaze over once or twice during a longish musical number? Yes. (During intermission, I asked a superfan how he thought the show was going: "It's great—but it's opening night, you know?") Were there moments when I was laughing so hard my stomach hurt and I prayed she would stop being so maddeningly funny, just for a moment, so I could breathe? Definitely.
Dina's grand lunacy is best illustrated by the small, unsettling details—like her vulva, a dark little patch bulging demurely from the crotch of her pantyhose while she serenades a nightmarish Mrs. Claus. It's horrifying. It's transfixing. Just like Dina Martina. BRENDAN KILEY
Carlotta's Late Night Holiday Wing Ding
Northwest Actors Studio
Through Dec 17.
If Dina inspires anxious laughter because she's from outer space, Carlotta Sue Philpott and her Wing Ding crew make us laugh at more terrestrial eccentrics, from a Cuban Amway salesman to Tennesseans who love Jesus, coleslaw, and George W. (in that order).
Carlotta (Kentuckian Troy Mink) came to Seattle from Midway, Tennessee, with her husband, who fixed snack machines "over at the Boeingses." She hosts her late-night talk/variety show with a nutty supporting cast: Slaw (her banjo-playing, blockheaded son), Mrs. Nellie Murphy (a dotty Irishwoman), Salvador ("he's from Cuba, Mexico!"), and Terry Gladwell (a barely-closeted theater queen).
Mostly improvised, the Wing Ding specializes in orchestrated chaos. The characters bumble around the stage and flail through amusingly awful musical numbers, occasionally taking a break to let their guests perform—last week Bret Fetzer read a fable from one of his children's books, John Ackermann (of "Awesome") and Rick Miller played some bluegrass, and Miss Maime Lavona did a sultry number with members of her White Boy Band.
Like Dina, Carlotta and her cast turn earnest lack of talent into great comedy, but the Wing Ding's realism is almost more disturbing than Dina's surrealist antics. We laugh at Carlotta's "hist'ry of Thanksgivin' from the... uh... In-ji-an's perspective" (the cast wore cartoonish dead birds on their heads and slipped in a plug for their "sponsor," Jack Daniels) because we all know real-life Carlottas—sweet old ladies whose idea of multiculturalism is thinly veiled condescension. Like all good satire, the Wing Ding helps us laugh at the sadness of it all. BRENDAN KILEY
Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center
Through Dec 11.
Sadie (Betty Slater), a middle-class black matriarch in New Orleans, lives with her daughter Clarice (the understated but affecting Charmion Sparrow) and wacky divorced sister Vesta (a funny Rachel Pate). Clarice is pregnant, but wants a career and, therefore, an abortion. Vesta wants a cocktail and a new outfit. Sadie just wants to know what that "strange white man watching this house" is up to. The family has good times and hard times, the good are rewarded, the bad are punished, the end.
Unfortunately, Sadie's Kitchen isn't quite fully realized. It would be a fairly standard melodrama if the cast exhibited even the slightest bit of, well, drama. Instead, the family absorbs each successive blow with a nonchalance that borders on indifference. The lack of emotional response—an accident of underacting—seems weird at first, but, when you think about it, begins to make sense. Everyone loves denial. What's a family without a few undetonated grenades swept under the rug?
The bubble bursts in the second act. Clarice finally loses her shit and yells a little, Aunt Vesta (basically a clown in act one) has a bona fide meltdown, and the family pulls together and through, as families should. The message of the story is: "There are times when you have to lean on somebody." Not a new idea, but a nice one.
Playwright La'Chris Jordan wrote Sadie's Kitchen based on events in her past. That aura of autobiographical truth, coupled with the cast's earnest and warm-hearted enthusiasm, rescues the production. It's familiar, stilted, even preachy, but something about the simple sincerity of the thing keeps it afloat. LINDY WEST