GRADY WEST'S Dina Martina, his failed diva with the freak-show drag and skewed consciousness, is a creation of remarkable imagination. The Las Vegas lounge singer routine has been done to death by others, but West continues to hold it by its feet and spank it with surreal, maternal glee. His inspired charade is more extravagant than ever in On the Board's The Dina Martina Christmas Special, and while I encourage attendance, I also think it's time that Dina's productions become as fresh and original as the character.

The lucky thing about West's act is that even its occasional comic uncertainty folds right into the insanity of the proceedings; what's unfortunate is the extent to which West and director Kevin Kent depend on it. If Dina is going to thrive and prosper in the next century, her skittish comic logic needs to be surrounded by a more disciplined context. West's unique sensibility is heightened in contrast to a world that plays by more rigid rules. The live TV special format, with its familiar given boundaries, should have provided the walls off which Dina's dysfunction bounces. Except for the ingenious opening titles animated by Webster Crowell and Nina Frenkel, the television conceit is a missed opportunity by the second act.

Despite the random flatness of the evening, the laughs are heavy and relatively constant. Martina's unnerving puppet daughter, Phoebe ("a never-ending joie in my vivre"), is again on hand to be publicly tormented, and Dina spends most of her time spouting confused Christmas sentiments that celebrate "the glint of the snow on a soft summer breeze... or just smiling at a blind person on the street." Dina's famed lyric negotiations, including a tangle with "in excelsis deo," are up to her usual demented standards. To reveal too much else would spoil your own discoveries, though I'll praise the supporting cast that includes the always-welcome Nick Garrison (as Pickles, "the Dina Martina dancer"), and prepare you for a truly deranged Nativity that has the Baby Jesus cooing, "Ich bin ein Berliner."

To quote Ms. Martina, "as we look back on this past decade, and we look forward, after turning around," what's clear is that West has a comic icon who is ripe for a new direction.

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