The Kinsey Sicks, a dynamite Dragapella Beautyshop Quartet, explode on Theater J’s stage for a limited run of their new politically charged show Things You Shouldn’t Say, saying and singing anything they damn well please. The group leaves little to the imagination in an outrageous yet heartfelt performance that explores the tragic history of the LGBTQ community in light of the current political environment. The Kinsey Sicks’ Things You Shouldn’t Say combines comedy and tragedy, farce and intimacy like a thickly lipsticked Thalia and Melpomene mask.
The Sicks began in 1993 after a Bette Midler concert where the four founders dressed as the Andrews Sisters, assuming that there would be more people in drag at the concert than just Bette. No such luck. However, luck struck a different course at the concert when the drag divas were asked by someone in the audience to perform at an upcoming event. Since then, the group has toured the world performing their raunchy and sassy song parodies, including two previous performances at Theater J: Oy Vey in a Manger and Electile Dysfunction.
Unlike their other shows, Things You Shouldn’t Say combines the Sicks’ signature shtick of parodying classics into their own, often sexual, acapella harmonies and going deeper into the history of the group, showing a side of the girls the audience has never seen before (and it’s shocking that there are any sides left!) The show progresses from the glamorous Trixie, played by Jeff Manabat, belting out a rendition of Abba’s disco-jam Mamma Mia reinvented as Gonorrhea; to Rachel, played by sole remaining founding member Ben Schatz, addressing the audience directly to resist political oppression and “fight for the fairytale ending” at the close of the show.
Throughout the performance, the Sicks brainstorm various things you shouldn’t say; as a teacher, to your parents, to a police officer or even as the president. Overtly anti-Trump, the Sicks sign several politically satirical mashups including a catchy jig entitled “Putin in the Ritz” formerly known as “Putting on the Ritz,” sung by Winnie, a.k.a. Nathan Marken, tap dance sequence included. Their political humor is at times on the nose—for example, the chorus “Gee, ain’t it great to be white” in “The Official Trump Theme Song”—but the girls commitment to campiness makes the cringe-worthy jokes nuanced by their very obtuseness.
Following Winnie’s cane-clad and Fosse-handed “Putin in the Ritz,” Spencer Brown puts the tramp in Trampolina in her rendition of “Rolling on the River”: “Trolling on the River.” Rachel finishes off the act, pun intended, by inviting a man named conveniently named Jordon from the audience to “play in her West Bank,” giving him a public lap dance while singing Connie Francis’ “Where the Boys Are,” revamped to “Where the Goys Are.”
In a surprising tonal shift, Schatz breaks from song to speak to the audience directly about the formation of the Sicks in light of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Schatz, a Harvard educated lawyer focusing on gay activism who later went on to serve as the executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association and was appointed to President Bill Clinton’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, heartbreakingly monologues about the epidemic in both personal and political terms. “It’s hard for your brain to remember what your heart tries to forget,” said Schatz, who, still fully in drag, looks out into the audience glassy-eyed. Rachel’s big hair-bow and over-rouged cheeks, juxtaposed with Schatz’s touching speech, makes the moment all the more intimate: sex jokes and crude antics are all well and good, but the very reason Rachel can perform is because Schatz and many others fought for her and the rest of the LGBTQ community.
Though the ladies dominated the stage, the scenic design by Tow Howley deserves note. On either side of the stage were discarded kitchen appliances and furniture, matched with half-burnt posters of the Sicks hanging from the back alongside ruined President Trump campaign posters. The entire set looked like the fantasy land of a disgruntled housewife—which perhaps the Sicks’ are.
In addition to set, their parrot-like costumes, courtesy of designer and castmate Jeff Manabat, give the overall vibe of the performance as decidedly kitchy and unapologetically tacky. Special attention should be given to Winnie and Rachel’s costumes that make one look like a gay Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus, and the other a slightly-sweaty Minnie Mouse.
But for all its romp and rancor, the Kinsey Sicks wowed with their emotional appeal. Not only was the group asking the audience to reflect on the horrors of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but to prevent such tragedies from happening again. “You wanted an outrageous drag show, well we are putting the ‘rage’ in outrageous,” Trixie proclaims at the close of the show. In this sequin-gloved call to arms, the Sicks demand the audience’s attention and response, not just in the theater but out in the world. The Kinsey Sicks’ Things You Shouldn’t Say shows that the things that shouldn’t be said instead should be proclaimed.
The Kinsey Sicks performance of Things You Shouldn’t Say plays through July 30, 2017 at Theater J in the Edlavitch D.C. Jewish Community Center located at 1529 16th Street NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 777-3210, or purchase them online.