Lovely ode to vaudeville in the bawdy, funny & poignant Mel Malarkey Gets the Bum’s Rush

cathy-petch
Cathy Petch as Mel Malarkey in Mel Malarkey Gets the Bum’s Rush

Fresh from a very successful run at The Theatre on King in Peterborough, Cathy Petch mounted Mel Malarkey Gets the Bum’s Rush for a one-night performance in Toronto, playing to a packed room at The Cameron House last night.

Accompanied by Dickie the Pianist (director Em Glasspool), Mel (Petch) walks the talk when it comes to ‘the show must go on,’ for her heart is heavy with sad news about her Vagabond Theatre home: the theatre is closing to make way for a movie cinema. And she knows she must tell Dickie and the audience, but hasn’t the heart just yet. And so the intrepid impressaria carries on, introducing her vaudeville show line-up and regaling the audience with skillful musical saw numbers. Taking moments in her dressing room during the acts, she reminisces and read odes to the various loves of her life: her mentor Dr. Sweeney, who ran a travelling medicine show where she got bit by the acting bug while working as his assistant; her male impersonator persona Victor the Crooner, with whom she discovered the man inside; and the unique love she found in the unappreciated beauty of a side-show attraction colleague.

Petch as Victor
Cathy Petch as Victor the Crooner

Petch brings a lovely, melancholy sense of mirth to Mel; saucy and entertaining in the shifts from Mel’s bits and introductions, to Victor (a suave lady’s man performer – and “Just a Gigolo” is a perfect song for him), to a Dietrich impersonation-driven spoken word performance on being called a “tramp,” to Dr. Sweeney (the charming rascal elixir salesman). And then, in Mel’s private moments backstage, misty-eyed with memory as she reflects on her history in vaudeville – a job she loves, working with colleagues she regards as family. While Mel’s inability to say the words “goodnight” or “goodbye” is hilarious – there’s an undercurrent of sadness there – and her ability to smile through the heartbreak is what Chaplin wrote and sang about in “Smile.” Glasspool gives one of the most hilarious drunk performances I’ve ever seen as the reliably drunken pianist Dickie; there’s a rhythmic quality to his staggering and swaying, and a child-like wonder on display, as he occasionally gets lost in watching the onstage goings-on while chugging back bottles of Dr. Sweeney’s elixir and needs to be reminded of his cue.

malarkey-02
Cathy Petch as Mel & Em Glasspool as Dickie

Through the 1931derful vaudeville laughs and cheek, there’s a reminder here that live performance brings a flesh and blood immediacy that watching onscreen can’t.

A lovely ode to vaudeville in the bawdy, funny and poignant Mel Malarkey Gets the Bum’s Rush.

Mel Malarkey Gets the Bum’s Rush was a one-night only affair at Cameron House this time around, but keep your peepers open for future productions at a fine performance venue near you.

In the meantime, you can catch Petch hosting the finals for Hot Damn, It’s a Queer Slam at Buddies in Bad Times on April 19.

Hot Damn, it’s season 2 of Queer Slam!

queer slamBetter late than never. Due to the nature of this event, I need to confirm with the organizers that it’s okay to publish participants’ names. So, without further ado…

Hot damn, that was another fine Queer Slam at Supermarket on Wednesday night! I had the pleasure of attending back in December, when I was also invited to be a judge; I was asked to be on the judging panel again, and decided to focus on listening and taking notes – so no pics this time (except for the fabulous event poster image above).

Host Cathy Petch kicked off season two of the annual LGBTQ poetry slam with a whole lotta of love, support and energy – and played the queer national anthem “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on the saw. Queer Slam will tour various locales across Ontario, and winners from each event will compete in the finals in the spring at Buddies in Bad Times – and the ultimate slam champ will win a spot at the annual Capturing Fire slam event in Washington, D.C.

Wednesday night’s slammin’ festivities included two sets of open mic performances, two rounds of slam competition and feature performer Johnny Trinh. Queer Slam attracts an incredible pool of talented folks – and open mic performers were no exception, including fellow judge, Duncan Armstrong aka TOpoet.ca. – socially aware, bold, funny and moving, these poets inform, inspire and entertain.

Slam competitors included Vanessa McGowan, Georgia Wilder and Shawna Dimitry, with judges calibrating their scores with the work of the evening’s sacrificial slam poet Kay Kassirer. Kassirer set the bar high, with some timely, astute and poetic observational call-outs about trans rights and how Hollywood fucked up the Stonewall movie; and personal experiences of pain and frustration as a person who identifies as genderless, and their struggle to navigate others’ assumptions of their sex/gender – building up a protective “wall as shield” to confront and just live in the world.

The three slam participants didn’t make it easy for us either, each with a very distinct style, voice and tone. McGowan’s work is beautifully raw, irreverent and moving – from her piece on a violation of consent, to “On Other Chunks” (from her collection Divine Cockeyed Genius). Wilder’s work went from lyrical, gothic and visceral in her first piece, to playfully erotic and comical in her final piece on desire and donuts. Shawna’s pieces were heartfelt, bittersweet renderings of childhood/teenage memories – and the complex relationship dynamics between BFFs, and coming to terms with the nature of attraction and object of desire. In the end, McGowan took first place, with Wilder coming in second and Shawna third.

Feature slam poet Johnny Trinh charmed, moved and informed with works that touch on the personal and the political. A meditation on the honesty of the breath segues into a reflection on the meaning of “home.” The first of two multidisciplinary collaborations was a longing, aching piece about the long distance relationships (featuring the work of a singer, dancer and actor), with Trinh speaking over a soundscape collage of lovers’ conversations with an R&B love song layered underneath brought to the fore in words and song: “you cannot edit my heart,” “call my name, invoke all of me, see me.” A rhythmic indictment of systemic abusive power, racism, oppression and slavery (from his new chapbook We Are Weary) – followed by an insightful reminder, as he addressed the audience afterwards, to not give our present-day bigots, haters and trolls more media time and space by referencing them. A poetic activist, Trinh also takes aim at the 1% and the outcome of income inequality and unemployment, raging against social injustice “knowing that life, let love alone, is a battlefield.” And a final collaboration with recorded acoustic guitar and cello accompaniment was a heartfelt, heartbreaking piece from the POV of the Chinese lover of a white man – a lyrical, dysfunctional love poem full of hurt, as racism presents as a dynamic otherness, stereotyped exoticism and servitude. You can also follow Trinh on Twitter.

Keep an eye out for these remarkable artists. Queer Slam goes back and forth between Toronto (at its home at Supermarket) and the other cities – check The Circuit page for details; next Toronto show was confirmed as November 18 today.