In what's quickly becoming as much of a Thanksgiving tradition as Public Market and fluorescent seasonal affective disorder lights, Kitschy Yum Yum Burlesque Co. is back this weekend with another holiday send-up of American politics, Puritanism and seasonal mores.
"Queen Isthmus Christmas" tells the tale of Queen Mary Isthmus, a frigid, Scrooge-like ice queen who has lost the ability to give or receive. With the help of Mothra - yes, the giant moth from the classic Japanese "Godzilla" films - the Queen sheds her inhibitions and gets in touch with her sexuality.
"The whole thing is a striptease, where as my chakras are released, so are my clothes," said company co-founder John Leo.
"The idea for it came from 'King Island Christmas,'" he said. "We wanted to make fun of Christmas all around, and then it got to the point where we didn't want to make fun of Christmas at all. We wanted to get it out of the way and try to do Christmas in a way that no one had ever done it."
"Queen Isthmus" is the fourth burlesque show in the last two years and marks the first time the company has attempted a multi-day run. It plays at 7:30 and 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 25 and 26, at the Hangar Ballroom in Merchants Wharf. Admission is restricted to those 21 and over. Tickets are $10 to $20 depending on ability to pay and are available in advance at Hearthside Books. They will likely go quickly, as the show promises to be filled with more semi-nudity than ever before.
Seating is limited to just more than 100 chairs for the 90-minute-to-two-hour show. Previous Kitschy Yum Yum performances have been standing-room only.
"Standing is a little chaotic, it's a little unfocused, which is great," Leo said. "We want to still have that, but we're trying to go to a deeper place with this. It's not stripped to the skin, but the soul. We want the audience to be in a place where they're focused."
In the story, the Queen falls into a drunken dream, where she's greeted by a omniscient spiritual advisor (Glenn Merrill).
Soon, two bumbling twin fairies (Hannah Corral and Corle LaForce-McPherson) appear and in not-so-graceful-song beckon who else but Mothra (Hilary Fleming) - the monster moth from the classic, mid-century Japanese "Godzilla" movies.
The fairies were actually 8 inches tall in the films. Here, they work in tandem with a compassionate Mothra to unlock the Queen's chakras. Fleming's Mothra costume, one of the show's best props, was constructed 10 years ago by Leo's sister. It's been sitting in a box for the last decade.
'Queen Isthmus Christmas'
Kitschy Yum Yum Burlesque Co.
When: 7:30 and 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 25-26
Where: Hangar Ballroom in the Merchants Wharf
Admission: $10 to $20 on a sliding scale; advance tickets at Hearthside Books
The chakras, which appear in order on a Power Point display, are a spoof on the seven chakras of yoga philosophy. Starting with the crown and working down to the base of the spine, each one introduces a different series of dances or skits acted out by an ensemble of stereotyped characters - the Slut, the Goodie-Goodie, the Dominatrix, the Boy Scout, the Fisherman and the Stud.
"At one of the first practices we had, John had us doing these clown exercises to come up with who our character was," said Alysia McLain (the Goodie-Goodie). "And so in each dance, there's still some aspect of the Goodie-Goodie, the Dominatrix, the Fisherman. The Queen has all these obstacles, these blockages, and she's basically watching all these different scenes happening and she gets some pointers that help her."
For the breathing chakra, the characters perform an absurd modern dance a capella, to the sound of their breathing. For the belly chakra, the Daughters of the New Moon, one of Juneau's belly-dancing troupes, takes the stage.
As the Queen's chakras are released, so are her clothes.
"The whole story line is about Queen Isthmus on this spiritual journey, traveling down her chakra system and her sexual awakening," said Meredith Wallis (the Slut). "It's also this theme of her coming out of the closet. In the beginning of the play, she's remembering in a very vague way, talking about things that happened in the closet. The play is about her coming to terms with her own history. When you get to the root chakra, which is all about sex, we couldn't really help take it to a new level."
As with the previous burlesque performances, the writing was a mostly collaborative process. Leo, Melissa Davis and Seamus Tomkins worked out a bare-bones outline.
"We were interested in following a more complete story line," Wallis said. "The last few that we've done have had a variety show feel to them, and we wanted this to feel a little more continuous."
"This time, more structure is what we were going for," said Davis (the Dominatrix). "We're obviously going to keep doing shows. Every time there's been a different theme, and something different that we're going to dive into."
"It really materialized from the Queen Isthmus idea," she said. "It's a perfect time of the year to parody. We wanted to make fun of King Island Christmas, and we're doing that, but what else can we do?"
The show also manages to lampoon "The Nutcracker," "The Christmas Story," "A Christmas Carol" and "It's a Wonderful Life."
"This show is much more rehearsed than any show we've ever done before," said Donnie Gott (the Librarian). "Normally we all get together and it's random acts, people who are freelance, who get signed on for the burlesque show.
"John's incorporated all these different Christmas stories and all these different elements of burlesque, stripping and parody," she said. "We're talking, of course, about our government, our society, mass consumption and this Christmas thing that is so commercialized and almost a beast. It's supposed to make you laugh and maybe feel a little bit uncomfortable if naked women and men make you uncomfortable."
The spirit of the play started to take shape after Leo returned Oct. 15 from a stay in San Francisco.
"Right before I came up here there was a burlesque festival - a full weekend of workshops and demos and hours worth of the best people in the world who are doing burlesque," Leo said. "People who invented burlesque were there, and it was amazing. I think our work was as good, if not better, than some of the people there."
"For me, stripping is a very spiritual thing, it transcends theater even," he said. "It's like the clown. Every king had the jester who could tell him he was a fool, and he would listen. Burlesque has the same kind of role. If you have too much of a two-dimensional agenda, people stop listening. If you do it through humor, people go, 'oh.' If you do it through stripping, people go, 'OH!' That combination for me is really exciting."
Korry Keeker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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