Sunday, October 11, 2009
The Cat's Meow
Hey. I never realized Alex from A Clockwork Orange had a sister. Who knew?
Actually, that's "Meow Meow," the multi-talented Australian vamp -- and one of the star attractions at the Ringling International Arts Festival. She bills herself as a post modern cabaret singer. This basically means her act is inside quotation marks. It's funnier than it sounds.
Anyway, Meow Meow arrives late, dragging her baggage. (Get it?) She can't get her act together. (Get it?) She's fragile, coming apart at the seams. She starts apologizing to the audience. Repeatedly. "I'm sorry ladies and gentlemen. I can't do this anymore. I just can't." Her act continues under threat: She could split at any moment. It's sorta like that scene in Blazing Saddles where Sheriff Bart puts a gun to his own head. "One false move and the singer gets it."
The comic flywheel inside the show: Meow Meow is a stage persona. A cabaret singer, one part Marlena Deitrich, two parts Liza Minelli. A diva doll. Hypersexual, cold, decadent, inaccessible, mad, bad and dangerous to know. But the human being inside that persona is having a hard time crawling inside her Meow Meow suit night after night. The theatrical clockwork is hard to wind up. The hyperfeminine machinery is a pain in the ass.
The actress inside Meow Meow is sorta like a female female impersonator. She keeps calling attention to the sheer energy effort and athleticism (the spike heels, corsets and the costume changes) required to create her uber-diva character. It's hard work. It's also a trick on the audience. Like Penn and Teller, she shows you how the magic works. Even then, the trick is still amazing.
To spell it out: The performer is a singer/actress pretending to be the singer/actress pretending to be Meow Meow. Ta-da!
Hey, besides which, the lady can really sing.
Apart from the post-modern huggery-muggery, Meow Meow's act boils down to repeated public humiliations of the audience, usually men. One of those audience participation things where she drags victims on stage and makes them jump through hoops. (Gotta tell you, gang. Sarasota did not shine. The guys came off like the stuffed shirts in a Marx Brothers movie. They didn't want to play.)
Funny stuff, though towards the end, it got to be a little too much of the same stuff. I wanted the act to end with the same narrative energy it started with. Meow Meow quits show biz. Or the audience applauds and, like Tinkerbell, she shines on and her stage career continues. Didn't happen. No matter.
She pushed performance to a space it doesn't usually go.
She took the audience with her whether they liked it or not.