Fear and Queer with Cherdonna and Lou
In terms of Seattle theatre, I try to adhere to two rules: 1) I never waste my time with a show that adds nothing to the current cultural mythology (see: Neil Simon), and 2) I never miss an opportunity to see queer performance.
Working from the concept of fear (and using a Friday the 13th performance to their advantage) Jody Kuehner and Ricki Mason (Cherdonna and Lou, respectively) created a genre-mixed gang bang that simultaneously terrified and tickled. Dressed in their typical drag personas and monster masks, and at one point, performing nude, they melted elements of Hollywood horror and atypical fears with dance, humor, politics, and queer theory (Yes, I’m about to stand on my “Queer performance theory is awesome” soapbox, see below) for one truly incredible night of performance.
The entire evening balanced what we commonly think of as horror (monsters, stabbings, running from an attacker) to uncategorized fears (not being able to screw a lid on a jar and making out with a bust of one’s own head). Additional threateningly comedic bits like impending darkness and bottles broken over heads, balanced with political fears like anyone dictating what a person can do with her own damn body.
Also addressing performance fears Cherdonna and Lou froze in their light unsure of their next line, or movement piece, and wallowed in that uncomfortable moment audience and performer feel together when the performer does nothing but stand and stare blankly.
Later, Lou’s light blacked out prompting another moment of uncertainty about what comes next, which naturally progresses into a lip-synced closing number of “Send in the Clowns.” Naturally.
But rather than alienating, these fears brought the audience into the dreamlike consciousness of two unique perfomers. The soundscape, expertly designed by Matt Starritt, added to the dreamlike quality by aurally mixing laughing/screeching children with sounds of heavy breathing and running, the sharp sounds of metal on glass, and a trippy echo when Lou calls out for a missing Cherdonna.
Cherdonna and Lou’s ballet in monster masks was utterly terrifying as they creeped closer and closer to the audience. And their dance with collapsible knives as they stabbed themselves and one another was hypnotic. This dance was heightened to absurdity when Cherdonna came forward to warn the audience about the knives on stage. (Knives are dangerous, you know. Even butter knives.)
Beyond the performance itself were the milestones of these characters. Most notably, Lou did not perform with the typical BenDeLaCreme voiceover the audience has come to expect. By owning her own voice, Mason has taken the character of Lou that much farther down the queer road by performing as dude, but having an effeminate voice, calling into question assumptions about presenting masculine, being masculine, and what exactly is masculine?
Kuehner (a female-identified drag queen) uses her facial expressions and drag queen make-up to add to these questions as well, presenting a feminine character under the paint and pomp of a typically gay male persona. Ultimately, they have continued to queerify and grow these characters to push past caricature, which in turn makes for better comedy and showcases their indomitable skills as dancers and performers.
Cherdonna and Lou cannot be categorized. They are dancers, make no mistake, but also artists, drag performers, comedians, actors and all that lies between, making their performances all the more interesting and compelling to watch because you can’t guess where they’ll move next, or exactly how they’ll get there.