The Cherdonna and Lou Show’s My Obviously Unsuccessful Lifestyle was, despite its name, a smashing success. A perfectly whimsical, absurd, and bittersweet final hurrah for the duo, this was the last evening-length show that Jody Kuehner and Ricki Mason, the artists behind the personae of Cherdonna and Lou, respectively, will be producing together. Their closing performance on Sunday night, July 14, played to a packed and enthusiastic house at Velocity’s Founders Theater.
For those unfamiliar, Cherdonna and Lou are part dance, part theater, part drag, part burlesque, and part glitter. In Obviously Unsuccessful, Cherdonna towered over Lou with long legs that ended in platform heels, big blonde hair, and her distinctive drag-queen-plus-LSD face. Lou, on the other hand, was the petite drag king with a very neat mustached face who lip-synced to his own voice, provided offstage by BenDeLaCreme. His short, declarative statements offered a counterpoint to Cherdonna’s quavering falsetto chatter, which often repeated itself past the point of logic— all part of the schtick, of course.
The duo played extensively with duration and repetition of movement, sound, and words. Much of their choreography was based on simple dance movements done with an embodiment unique to each persona. After five years of inhabiting these characters, Cherdonna and Lou each move exactly like Cherdonna and Lou, and no one else. This unique precision is a big part of why they can pull off some of their repetitious schtick. Nothing is half-assed, which is why it was fascinating, (and just the right amount of uncomfortable) to watch them as they kept awkwardly leaping across the stage, or backed away slowly from the audience looking nervous, like they had run out of choreography. They made you laugh, they made you uncomfortable. You laughed because you were uncomfortable, and then you laughed because they were uncomfortable. An unusual formula for success, but one that worked for this duo.
Obviously Unsuccessful also included an ensemble. Their cast included Cats—five of them, as Cherdonna reminded the audience over and over—danced by deadpan performers in ears, whiskers, black leotards, bare legs, black shoes and socks, and long tails (Alice Gosti, Ambryn Melius, Elby Brosch, Peter Donnelly, and Nikolai Lesnikov). The Cats came in and out of the show in a line, often mimicking Cherdonna’s voice with meows as she tried to speak, and doing a little 1930s soft-shoe routine with Lou. The Cats had notable moments on their own, too: one scene included them lounging in a line upstage meowing expressively to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” like a hand bell choir comprised of cats, where the melody passed from meow to meow.
The ensemble also helped Cherdonna and Lou do some soul searching as new iterations of themselves took to the stage. There was a cardboard Cherdonna and Lou (Shannon Stewart and Meredith Meiko) complete with cardboard Cherdonna hair for Stewart and a paper bag vest for Meiko. A bizarre deconstruction of the duo showed two pairs of high-heeled Cherdonna legs (Annie McGhee and Amelia Reeber) connected by a face-obscuring tube of gold fabric traversed the stage as another Lou (Corrie Befort) crawled out from underneath large fabric representations of Cherdonna’s head and hair. Finally, the audience got a glimpse of Old Cherdonna (Eric Pitsenbarger), who did not age gracefully, and Old Lou (Kitten La Rue), who was spry and jaunty in his sock garters and glittering silver mustache. The real Cherdonna and Lou interrupted each of these sections by bursting onstage with applause as if trying to good-naturedly move along the pace of a variety show. Only with the old version of themselves did they realized they were confronting a potential future. Unsurprisingly, Cherdonna and Old Cherdonna looked askance, almost revolted, at each other, while Lou and Old Lou were immediately best friends.
Shortly after Cherdonna and Lou’s confrontation with themselves as old folk, Obviously Unsuccessful came to its denouement. The audience witnessed a gentle, loving break-up between two characters. Cherdonna kept repeating “it’s gonna be great” and “this is exciting” about all the changes that were in store. Lou’s Voice came on stage and helped Lou apologize to Cherdonna that sometimes what seems like forever is inevitably not forever.
Lou’s words rang true. Creative relationships can have a shelf life, and it can be liberating to move on, even while it is sad to transition out of a fruitful collaboration. This show marks the end of an intense period of Cherdonna and Lou partnership, but it’s got to be freeing for Kuehner and Mason, both of whom have individual projects to focus on. Among other ventures, Kuehner has been commissioned by Velocity to premiere an evening length work in fall, 2014, and Mason has received support from 4Culture for a work entitled Future Purchase, also for 2014. It’s gonna be great, Cherdonna. It’s gonna be great, Lou. And never fear, Seattle: Kuehner and Mason may be embarking on their own exciting projects, but they promise to bring back Cherdonna and Lou for Homo for the Holidays and Freedom Fantasia.