Dina Martina — Seattle’s enduring, endearing and brilliantly hapless twist on a nightclub act — drags her cathartic version of the holiday spirit back to Re-bar for another year.
If you’re already familiar with Seattle’s better holiday traditions, those five syllables tell you everything you need to know: the towering inferno of garish self-delusion who believes she’s a talented nightclub act, the Marquise of Malapropisms and Mispronunciation (“y’all peeps should come to my houshe for Chrishtmash! We’ll play reindeer james!”), she of the ample back hair and red lipstick that looks like it was applied by a resentful intern wielding a paint roller and a grudge.
Dina Martina puts the threat back in “triple threat”: She can sing like nobody’s listening, act like nobody’s watching and dance like she already hurts. But that’s the perverse, squirmy irony Dina’s creator (Grady West) brings to the stage. She desperately wants people to watch her, is so terrible that nobody should want to watch her, and yet people flock to her shows, from high-profile fans like John Waters to the tipsy crowds at Re-bar.
‘Dina Martina Christmas Show’
Through Dec. 31 at Re-bar, 1114 Howell St., Seattle; $25 (800-838-3006 or brownpapertickets.com).
Her 2017 engagement at Re-bar, which turns the dance floor into a temporary lounge-theater, is no break from tradition: as usual, Dina is your LSD-spiked Advent calendar on legs.
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“My shows are a lil’ different,” she warns newcomers at the start of this year’s gleeful holiday train wreck. “I don’t do continuity or substance.” Then she proceeds to introduce herself (“I’m a real people person … and I’ve got tender gums”) and list the charities she’s worked with: “the Red Cross, the Blue Cross, Doctors Without Borders, Gynecologists Without Boundaries. I made an early decision that I’ll always be a safe haven for saturated fats.”
Then she’s off, telling stories about meeting entertainment icon (and her future boyfriend) Frosty the Snowman in the bathroom of an Old Country Buffet, holding his hand under the stall while he “gave thanks,” warbling through a rewrite of Mungo Jerry’s “In the Summertime” with lyrics about leaving the holiday dishes in the sink for weeks and telling us about her recent travels to “Fraynch.”
“You’ve got to be careful what you pack because there are cultural differences,” she warns the crowd in her carefully absent-minded way, like a great aunt trying to explain the existence of shoelaces while secretly wondering where she’d left her secret stash of Almond Roca. “You see, I forgot my Waterpik so I had to use a — what do you call it? — a, uh, bidet!”
The jokes are good but, as always, the magic hides in Dina’s painfully sincere delivery and her studiously stone-faced accompanist Chris Jeffries, who stares at the stage like he’s incapable of (or unwilling to) acknowledge the weirdness unfolding in front of him.
Dina Martina made her stage debut in 1989 at Seattle’s Center on Contemporary Art, and went on to an international career, including gigs with Margaret Cho, Nina Hagen, the Village People, Justin Vivian Bond and Bridget Everett.
Not bad for a “chanteuse” who has made herself a synonym for utter haplessness.
During a Dina-fied rendition of “Piano Man,” Dina belts out a few verses of homage to one of Re-bar’s surly bartenders: “She’s quick with a quip / or gives me some lip / when there’s someplace she’d rather be / she says: Man, I believe this is killing me / and I think it’s killing you, too / For I’m sure you could be a movie star / If they were remaking ‘Alien 2.’ ”
The audience howls. But, like all great buffoons, Dina’s vortex of self-abasement is her gift to us. Sometimes, the holidays are horrible, the world is depressing, and all the over-the-top ornaments and ribbons and retail ridiculousness make you want to hide. But that’s OK. Dina Martina gives us an excuse to laugh at ourselves, and our complicity in the absurdities — Dina flails onstage for our Christmas sins.