Part raucous bar-theater and part drag satire, “Ms. Pak-Man: On My Last Heart!” at Re-bar is a “comeback,” tell-all nightclub show by the washed-up yellow celebrity of ’80s video arcades — but she’s still a pill-popping disaster.
Ms. Pak-Man has a problem.
Or, to be precise, she has a kaleidoscope of problems. In “Ms. Pak-Man: On My Last Heart!,” a surreal, half-theater/half drag performance at Re-bar, the washed-up, rotund yellow celebrity of ’80s video arcades performs a confessional “comeback” show. (Ostensibly, the conventional spelling of “Pac-Man” has been changed to avoid cease-and-desist letters.)
Turns out, she’s spent several reckless years of martini-drinking, pill-popping and feckless lovers after her split with “Mr. Pak-Man” and is ready to storm back to celebrity with a nightclub act, but she’s still a disaster — in the late-stage Judy Garland sense.
‘Ms. Pak-Man: On My Last Heart!’
Through March 11 at Re-bar, 1114 Howell St., Seattle; $20-$25 with $75 VIP tables (strangertickets.com).
Despite her protestations, it’s obvious that her root problem is pining for the old days with Mr. Pak-Man.
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“I definitely don’t think about him every morning,” she slurs to the barroom crowd, “staring into the mirror, trying to put on mascara through my tears … I’m just kidding — I don’t wear mascara.”
Scott Shoemaker plays Ms. Pak-Man (with yellow makeup; a startlingly large pink bow; and a big, bouncy Pac-blob around her waist) as a hilariously pathetic hurricane of desperation, barely suppressed rage and neediness.
The show opens with a satire of Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” with the lyrics changed to “pour some poison in me” and “put some quarters in me.” (Shoemaker is not afraid of a cheap groaner — referring to her fling with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Ms. Pak-Man demurs that she will not “kiss and shell.”)
“Did you like that opening number?” she coos to the crowd. “Well, you’re in luck, because we’ve packed this show full of opening numbers. Ah-ha-ha! Most shows only have one!”
One could argue that “Ms. Pak-Man,” in fact, has too many numbers. It clocks in at over two hours — if Shoemaker and writer/director Freddy Molitch shaved off at least a quarter of the material, the show would be punchier and more powerful. But the audience at Re-bar seemed to relish every minute and, Shoemaker said after the show, “Ms. Pak-Man” is attracting interest from venues in Portland and San Francisco, plus “the slightest nibble of interest” in New York.
Seattle has a grand tradition of “psychodrag” — unlike the standard-issue drag you can see at gay bars across the world, these would-be chanteuses aren’t played as empowered and finger-snapping wits, but as either surreal and slightly frightening weirdos (Ursula Android and her electro-punk band the Ononos, for example) or as deluded, self-involved train wrecks (Dina Martina). Most mainstream drag queens on the reality-contest TV show “RuPaul’s Drag Race” score points by mocking other people; the “psychodrag” queen does a back flip with the form. She stoops to conquer, winning over audiences with pathos and absurdity, often becoming the butt of the jokes she’s trying to aim at others.
“Ms. Pak-Man” is a new iteration of that lineage. The character was born, Shoemaker said, when he and Molitch (also known as DJ Freddy King of Pants) were at a Capitol Hill gay bar and saw a Ms. Pac-Man machine.
“It struck Freddy that it would be funny to anthropomorphize Ms. Pac-Man and have her perform a nightclub act,” Shoemaker said. “He is still a video game nerd and I secretly want to be Judy Garland, so it could not be a more perfect set of circumstances.”
“Ms. Pak-Man” is stuffed with burlesques of ’70s and ’80s music and video-game culture. “I had more hands on me than the Rubik’s Cube!” Ms. Pak-Man says in one example. “Probably because I was a lot easier.”
And the show’s (ahem) high point comes when Ms. Pak-Man, in a fit of despair, shoves her face into a large plastic bag of “cocaine” and asks her crew what the next song is supposed to be. The answer: “Rainy Days and Mondays” by the Carpenters. “Yeesh, what a downer,” she sighs. The song begins and she keeps commanding the DJ to speed up the track to match her drug-fueled mood — soon, Ms. Pak-Man is careening around the stage, singing the most manic and dance-pop version of a Carpenters’ song you’ve ever heard.
During that bit on the night I attended, some people in the audience choked on their cocktails with laughter. Then, as her high faded and she started to crash, Ms. Pak-Man announced she’d take some pills she calls “‘Conversations About Sports,’ because on these, I just. Don’t. Care.”
The crowd erupted with more guffaws and cheers. Ms. Pak-Man might still be stuck in her maze of vanity and inebriation — but Shoemaker and Molitch seem bound for the next level of their game.