Whether you’re a grinch like me or the most obnoxiously festive person on earth, there’s no way you won’t laugh out loud at Dina Martina’s delightfully irreverent Christmas show at ACTLab.
From the cheery set decor alone, you’d think you were in a sickeningly wholesome holiday tale, that is until drag queen Dina Martina herself stumbles onstage. In a particularly itchy-looking red sweater and Santa hat, she begins cheerily singing her cover of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” complete with holiday greetings and "fun AA meetings."
Don’t go into the show expecting a story. It’s less of a traditional play and more Christmas television special-esque musical stand-up. Not many people could manage to single-handedly entertain an audience for nearly two hours with songs and cynical ramblings alone, but Dina Martina pulled it off. I was captivated from the moment she stepped onstage in her glittery red sweater and white fluffy boots, to when she struggled to don a floor-length fur coat and closed the show with a dramatic exit into a giant wrapped gift box.
According to Dina Martina, “life is like a bowl of disappointment,” and, boy, does this show sure drive that point home. Dina festively sings her way through a variety of not-so-festive topics, such as alcoholism, Santa spying through your bedroom window, Jesus, and corpse-scented candles. However, the charming set design clashes wonderfully with the cynical content of the show. From the slowly revolving Christmas tree in the corner to the miniature spinning carousel, it’s impossible to tear your gaze away from the festive detailing on the stage. The set is set up theater in the round style, which creates a more intimate, interactive feel.
One slightly distracting piece of set decor, however, was the large screen on the back wall. It was clearly trying to evoke the feeling of a TV Christmas special, but it seemed to clash with the fact that the rest of the show was live theatre, especially when it played a pre-recorded skit poking fun at politicians at a seemingly random interlude in the show. Nothing else like it played for the rest of the show, and it was never brought up again. Though funny, it felt strangely out of place with the rest of the show.
The screen was put to use again towards the end of the show, showing pictures of old Seattle as Dina Martina rambles about the topic. Though some of Dina Martina’s jokes and references to old Seattle may not be relevant to younger audiences, she presents them in a tongue-in-cheek manner that satirizes the kind of old folks who play bingo and lament the ‘good old days.’ The jokes about the olden days are a minor part of the show and, while they may not make sense to the few whippersnappers in the audience, are entertaining nonetheless.
The Dina Martina Christmas Show leaves the fourth wall in pieces, bringing audience members on stage to give them gifts (which she pronounces as ‘jifts’) such as Dina Martina mugs, Cheeto-flavored lip balm, hot pants, and teeth. Her improv skills are impeccable, as she has a bizarre, entertaining response to anything the nervous audience volunteers say. In this section particularly, Dina Martina finds creative ways to work in advertisements for her own merchandise, informing the audience that the gift shop is full of wonderful things and, also, “some things that aren’t wonderful.”
Between the deliberately tacky costuming, decadent set, and wickedly dark humor, it’s nothing short of a masterpiece and, quite frankly, the funniest piece of theatre I’ve seen in a long time. Life may be a bowl of disappointment, but The Dina Martina Christmas Show certainly is not.
The Dina Martina Christmas Show ran on the ACTLab stage at ACT Theatre December 5-24, 2019. See here for event information.