TBA:13: Meow Meow and The Blow

A brief study in diva themes.

Minimalist diva, meet maximalist diva. Left, The Blow. Right, Meow Meow.

Minimalist diva, meet maximalist diva. Left, The Blow. Right, Meow Meow.

Last Friday night at TBA, I saw Meow Meow. Last Sunday, The Blow. And believe it or not, it’s taken til now to organize my notes from these female soloists’ shows in any satisfying way. This may be because the female solo show is so vastly relevant and incredibly dear to me. Having already covered some strong female leads in theater this month, having tried the medium for years myself, and occasionally facilitating others’ shows, that I’d hate to pop off and say these things wrong. When one woman faces down a whole room, it is love AND war, not either/or. It’s exhilarating, and it can be exhausting. So before we proceed, ALL DUE RESPECT.

“Wait,” you say. “Isn’t any solo performance (male or female, song or dance or theater) equally demanding?” Yes, Pet … to a point. But a diva, defined for our purposes, is a woman or female impersonator singing and talking solo who chooses to confront the (nearly inevitable) gendered expectations with intention. She may either meet, exceed, or explode said preconceptions … or she can flip them artfully to her sly advantage. This usually means deciding, before she begins, which of the tropes of womanhood to play with, and to what effect.

I imagine a classic diva like Meow Meow prepares by rifling through all the feminine styles in her literal and literary closet. Femme fatale, matron, and ingenue are, for this Broadway and London luminary, each as well-worn as an “LBD,” and each embellished with details that make them her own. Who to be … who to be? With a pair of kickin’ fishnets, a cloud of jet-black hair and a dizzy demeanor, Meow Meow conjured a classic coquette, yet she entered the Schnitz from the wings with the hasty politeness of an English matron trying to squeeze onto a crowded subway train. (“Excuse me … thank you Darling … do you speak English?”)

Soon she morphed into femme fatale, clutching a cigarette in an elbow-length red glove, bumping and shimmying in a ruched lavender evening gown with a rhinestoned crotch, stripping down to skivvies behind the conductor’s music stand. Fronting the Oregon Symphony and Pink Martini pianist-leader Thomas Lauderdale in a symphony/TBA co-presentation, she sang in French; cooed, bellowed, and whispered; made jazz hands and rolled R’s. “I’ll give you whatever I have in this exquisite sack of a body,” she promised, sometimes emitting little squeals and lurching into panty-flashing shenanigans so manic that they gave the impression that her overexposure was an innocent accident … hence dialing the persona full-circle to ingenue.

Where Meow Meow unfurled an armoire-full of ruffles and roses, the Blow exposed a near-empty contemporary walk-in closet with a full-length mirror. Khaela Maricich’s aesthetic was minimal, her delivery deadpanned. Where Meow Meow was accompanied by an orchestra, The Blow’s stage at the Winningstad was bare save a large triangle of white light and a single mic. For wardrobe, she wore only white jeans, a tank top, a low ponytail, moccasins, and a button-up shirt … and the moccasins and button-up were all that came off. Perhaps she has a sister in Kaj-Ann Pepper, whose “Post-Realness” yen suggests going beyond a presentation of rote womanhood, tossing aside feminine wiles and charm campaigns in favor of a more frank, challenging, and confrontational femaleness. Still, in a telling soliloquy, Maricich puzzled aloud over who to be, and how to please her crowd: “Which Khaela do you guys want to see? Partytime Khaela? Spooky Khaela? Awkward Khaela? New Khaela—do you actually believe there is a new Khaela?” By flipping through her stark boutique collection of parallel personas, Maricich was still performing an abstracted version of the diva routine.

Just as there are classic characters, there are some performative tricks that work (nearly) every time, writ in the diva’s velvet book of dark arts and else rarely spoken of. But I know them when I see them, and I certainly noted crossovers in Meow Meow and The Blow. I defy you to think of a diva who hasn’t played with these techniques in her routine…usually to awesome effect.

Flirting…with death.

Meow Meow, mid crowd-surf, legs akimbo and balance precarious: “I’ve lost my will to live. Can you pass me that whiskey please? Thank you Darling.” At another point, “I feel nothing. Am I alive?”

Maricich, pacing between dance numbers: “See, you get people to worry about you; get people to want you to stay alive. Then when they try to give you mouth-to-mouth, you can make out with them.”

Meta-sexiness

Khaela, back to the crowd, jiggling her hips in a fluid, jiggly version of twerking: “This isn’t even my ass, because my ass doesn’t do this.”

Meow Meow, feigning a struggle to put on a red bustier before looping it around one arm like a sling: “I just have to get this over with … a little … burlesque number. It’s in my contract, you know. Just very quickly, if you’ll bear with me.”

Radical self-reliance + extreme vulnerability

Meow Meow: She frequently repeated “I have to do everything myself,” as she passed out roses for the crowd to throw at her and steamed up the stage with a hand-held smoke machine. But by the close of the show, she was singing a different tune in Patty Griffin’s “All The Girls,” tapering to a whisper: “Be careful how you bend me, be careful where you send me, be careful how you end me…be careful with me. ”

Maricich: “Are you guys scared for me up here all by myself?” and later, “I know that I just invented myself so that I could make out with myself.”

Keeping collaborators on-board

Meow Meow: According to TBA artistic director Angela Mattox, Lauderdale and Meow Meow met at a prior TBA fest, and there was an obvious chemistry between them. Lauderdale, ever the sport, hopped to Meow Meow’s cues. When she chirped, “Skip to the bridge!”—they were there. When she stopped mid-song and said “I’m bored of that one,” he accommodated. Meanwhile, such abrupt transitions seemed to flummox orchestra conductor Carlos Kalmar; it took him a beat to choose soloist over score.

The Blow is a duo formed by Khaela Maricich and her light/sound technician and life partner Melissa Dyne, but Maricich alone addresses the audience. At the Winningstad, despite hogging the literal spotlight, Maricich highlighted Dyne, declaring, “That’s Melissa. Everything that she does happens somewhere else,” later whispering “I feel so close to you right now,” and closing the show with a tandem bow.

“Dom” demands

Meow Meow’s performance regularly cracked a “dom” whip. She’d politely pepper her requests with “darling” and “please,” then theatrically snap and screech, “JUST DO IT!”—then comically slip right back into Miss Manners mode. She briefly insisted that the stage should rotate, and was met halfway with a lazy susan to stand on and a minion to spin it. She requested that someone bring her a bag of chips and then handed them back after she’d licked them. She recruited audience men to be her dressers, her backup dancers, her chair, and her mic-stand—and ultimately, she demanded that Kalmar and Lauderdale disrobe, revealing red long johns under their tuxes.

Maricich, however, took the submissive pose, at one point singing, “I like torture a lot … my endurance is awesome,” and at another point remarking after a (punishing?) lighting stunt from Dyne, “What are you doing back there? I trust you.”

In the end…true love

Meow Meow: Amid several selections about heartbreak and disenchantment, and even a hint of vintage communist rhetoric (“Che, Tango che”) and apocalyptic alarm (“In This City,” a Meow Meow/Grandage original), Meow Meow made love to the room via a wistfully pan-amorous song, “Hotel Amour,” that she penned with Lauderdale. Nearly whispering as a disco ball beamed bubbles of light around the room, she sang, “a leaf that’s shaped like a heart … a simple breeze … a feather … love is everywhere.”

Maricich’s new catalog of songs seems mostly devoted to celebrating her romance with Dyne. Exuberant single “Make it Up” detailed how past romances paled in comparison to the current one, and the feeling that she and her partner have invented love. During the chorus, Maricich literally jumped for joy.

___________________________

A. L. Adams also writes monthly column Art Walkin’  for  The Portland Mercury, and is  former arts editor of Portland Monthly Magazine.
Read more from Adams: Oregon ArtsWatch  | The Portland Mercury

Support Oregon ArtsWatch!

 

Comments are closed.