Imagine an old lounge singer strutting across stage trailing a silk scarf that conveniently covers her Adam’s apple. Her large blond wig is secured by a rhinestone-covered bow. Her accompanist is furiously pounding the keyboard. She looks into the audience, brings the purple-topped microphone to her lips and opens her mouth. “Wu-tang, motherfucker!”
It is at this moment it becomes apparent this reputable young lady is not a lady at all, rather a foul-mouthed drag queen. This is “Pardon Our Appearance,” produced by Wooly Mamouth Theatre Company and currently playing at D.C.’s Source Theatre.
Kiki (Justin Bond) is a washed up lounge singer and an alcoholic to boot. Kiki is a female character in the show, played by a man, yes, but understood to be entirely feminine. Kenny Mellman plays Herb, an accompanist who pounds away at the piano for the entire 90-minute performance.
Kiki delivers 90 percent of the dialogue and lyrics with Herb helping with background vocals and playing the straight man, no pun intended, throughout the show. Through excellent facial expressions and a mastery of the piano, Mellman has a strong presence on the stage despite his fairly sparse dialogue.
Bond and Mellman wrote the production for themselves and it clearly reflects close attention to their personal strengths. It would be difficult for other actors to replicate the chemistry Bond and Mellman create.
The drag act is flawless. Bond manages female personification with an undeniable grace. The audience really stops seeing Kiki as a man in a wig and starts identifying her as an average middle-aged woman.
The show’s highlight is Kiki’s whiskey-voiced renditions of pop songs by a range of mainstream rock and rap artists. Kiki traipses around belting out medley’s of 1960s folk songs when the audience would expect show tunes. Drag stylings of Styx, Led Zepplin and David Bowie tunes are nothing short of hilarious. It goes without saying that a lounge-style send-up of “Stairway to Heaven” produces laughs. Something about Kiki’s unexpectedly diverse vocal range brings the concept’s humor to an entirely different level.
The show loses steam during the second half, which is more devoted to Kiki and Herb’s personal history. This part of the show makes the audience feel like they’re really watching a washed up lounge act slowly descend into a drunken stupor.
At one point, Kiki tells a rambling story about Herb growing up as a gay Jewish boy with learning difficulties. Kiki deems Herb a “gay, Jew ‘tard.” It seemed like the authors are just piling on stereotypes in an attempt to get laughs.
There is no exposition or development of the characters, so the audience has little reason to feel sorry for Kiki as she babbles cynically about love and happiness. This back-story is not nearly as interesting or entertaining as the musical numbers.
Kiki’s comments take predictable jabs at topical subjects like President George W. Bush, Iraq and the recent sniper shootings around D.C. While Bond and Mellman have obviously freshened the show for their run in the District, the jokes are not quite original.
All in all, the musical numbers are great and the acting is terrific. The script, however, is one-dimensional. If your choice is between the $25- $30 tickets to see Kiki and Herb and another Friday night at Dream, go for variety, see the play. If your choice is between Kiki and Herb and a $5 kegger, save your cash for the cover.