Wednesday, December 02, 2015

“Unwrapped” isn’t the present you were waiting for

Jinkx Monsoon in Unwrapped (Nate Watters)
Jinkx Monsoon and Major Scales
Seattle Repertory Theatre
Through December 13, 2015

Jinkx Monsoon and Major Scales are a unique duo. They have achieved heady success as a drag team who are talented enough to sing their own songs and compose and write and perform smart material and witty banter. Last year, they performed a critically acclaimed show at the Seattle Repertory Theatre called The Vaudevillians.

The premise of The Vaudevillians was that this couple were frozen in the 1920s and somehow unthawed and brought back to life, all faculties intact. They then go back to their prior business of performing ‘20s style vaudeville music. It was expansive, over-the-top and quite enormous fun!

It was still mostly a “bar act” and probably a bit better with a bunch of booze in you, but it worked surprisingly well in the more staid environment of a major theatrical venue. I guess that was why they were invited back for a “holiday” show, or perhaps more precisely an “anti-holiday” show.

They are now performing Unwrapped. This is a brisk 60-65 minute show that has a more unfortunate premise: Jinkx Monsoon is not a fan of Christmas and has been forced, I suppose by being paid for it, to perform a holiday show at the Rep. Major Scales tries to keep her going and enthusiastic, but Jinkx mostly throws tantrums before getting to the generic audience-interaction moment in the middle of the show.

Jinkx, the alter-ego of performer Jerick Hoffer (a Cornish College of the Arts graduate), is a great character. She’s ego-driven and devil-may-care and was compelling enough to win RuPaul’s Drag Race during their hotly contested Season Five.

Major Scales, the alter-ego of Richard Andriessen (also a Cornish College of the Arts graduate), has thrived as Jinkx’s performance partner and often composes songs for the two of them to sing. In Unwrapped, rather than sing a lot of holiday songs we already know, Andriessen has composed some fun new music that is holiday or anti-holiday related.

If you have never seen the pair, you might well enjoy the show and their quirky relationship. The new songs are a smart way to go, rather than bore an audience with classic holiday music. But these talented performers don’t seem to have worked all that hard to make an evening they can be proud of. It’s thin on content and seems to skate entirely on their prior work.

I think they’re better than this material, and if you’re cranky about the holidays yourself, there aren’t enough laughs here to help you feel better when you walk out of the theater. From what I have seen of the ticket prices, they are another reason why you might feel a bit cranky if you’ve paid a good chunk of change for the show and after an hour, you don’t feel like you’ve gotten your money’s worth.

Since a good deal of their act is improvisational, it may depend on the evening and maybe I was there at a time when Jinkx was struggling more than usual. But the idea itself, of a put-upon and bitter performer who doesn’t like the holidays, is pretty stereotypical to build a show on, and it needs a great deal of extra thought to make it succeed more than this one does.

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