There's an old vaudeville rule that performers should never share the stage with children or animals—both are unpredictable, are impossible to not watch, and will upstage everyone. Jerick Hoffer (also known as drag star Jinkx Monsoon) merrily breaks that rule in The Vaudevillians by managing to be both child and animal at the same time. His character, Kitty Witless, is a coked-up, sex-charged, century-old cabaret starlet, who, along with her wiry husband and pianist Doctor Dan Von Dandy (Richard Andriessen, aka Major Scales), got frozen in an avalanche, recently thawed out, and found that decades of pop stars had stolen their songs. ("Hit Me Baby One More Time," Kitty tells us, was about domestic abuse.)
Kitty is as selfish, impetuous, and prone to throwing tantrums as the most terrible of 2-year-olds, and performs with animal heat—she purrs, chirps, coos, and slinks around the stage, then will erupt into bracing screeches and roars. She's in constant emotional motion, oscillating from playful kitten to a cyclone of tigers, alternately seducing and assaulting her audience. Kitty is outlandish but precise, with a dance and physical vocabulary closer to silent film than standard-issue drag.
"I never read reviews... sober," she begins one bit, her legs dangling childishly off the stage. The Seattle critics have been encouraging so far, she says, but they all primly mention that The Vaudevillians is not a typical Rep show. ("Brace Yourselves, Seattle Rep Patrons," warns a headline at the Seattle Times.) "They all use words like 'racy,' 'risqué,' 'verging on offensive,' 'irreverent,' 'drug-induced,' 'alcoholic,'" Kitty sighs wearily before detonating into a deep-throated bellow: "WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU THINK VAUDEVILLE WAS?!"
Hoffer (who is one of this year's nominees for the Stranger Genius Award in performance) and Andriessen are incandescent together, clear descendants of legendary drag-cabaret duo Kiki & Herb—but while the latter were more like disoriented, psychedelic orphans who washed up on the shores of Manhattan, clinging to each other for comfort, Kitty and Doctor Dan are a codependent but blasted couple straight out of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? "You've aged beautifully," Dan compliments Kitty at one point. "Like a fine wine. Yes, a fine house wine—and everybody's had a glass."
They run familiar numbers through their high-octane wringer ("I Will Survive," they say, was originally the opening ballad for Doctor Dan's failed sequel to A Doll's House, which Kitty reminds us ended with Nora slamming the door in her husband's face) while riffing on Prohibition-era themes. Kitty announces that the next number is about "women's suffrage" and then archly asks: "Are there any other women out there suffering tonight?" The duo has the improvisational mastery of people used to working much drunker audiences—at one point, Hoffer was unfortunate enough to pick an audience participant who took the opportunity to wisecrack and show us how clever he was. "Let's get one thing straight," Kitty said with razors in her voice. "You don't have any lines in this show. And if you step on one more punch line, I'm coming for blood." Everyone believed her.