Theater archives

Lush Life


The proscenium is not Kiki’s best friend. Her fans are used to a more interactive
experience—say, shielding their cocktails from her path of destruction each time she drunkenly threatens to do an impromptu table dance. In fact, she’s best appreciated not in a Broadway landmark, but in the kind of dive where you can’t tell whether the body sprawled on the floor is passed out or dead. (On at least one occasion, that body was Kiki’s.) Nevertheless, the septuagenarian boozy chantoozie and Herb, her long-suffering “gay Jew ‘tard” accompanist-enabler, have taken their act uptown, and it’s hard to begrudge them their success.

For the uninitiated, a recap: Way back in the vermouth mists of time, Kiki DuRane (Justin Bond) and Herb (Kenny Mellman) escaped from a Pennsylvania “institutional,” and they’ve been touring ever since. In between surreal lounge renditions of the Great American Songbook (Gnarls Barkley, Public Enemy, the Cure), Kiki sucks down Canadian Club by the half-gallon and assaults us with soggy monologues about the duo’s sordid past (“If you weren’t molested as a child,” she burbles, “you must have been an ugly kid”), stories that grow ever more bizarre as the evening progresses. One elaborate anecdote, which attempts to tie the pair’s longevity to the afterbirth of Jesus, blurs the line between incoherent and brilliant.

Their viciously funny act hasn’t been watered down for the big time, and the only visible effect of a Broadway budget is Scott Pask’s glittery set, dominated by a Beckettian tree stump that Kiki perilously repurposes as a barstool. (“Time to make Mama pretty,” she slurs as she pours herself another round.) Her whiskey-soaked political rants sound more timely than in previous gigs, and actually they’re more cogent than anything the Democratic Party has offered in the last five years. A director (none is credited in the playbill) might have helped tighten up Kiki’s dissociative fugue, but that would be missing the point: Kiki & Herb’s scathing genius lies precisely in their refusal to let any authority, directorial or otherwise, disrupt the balance between the twin human impulses for self-destruction and perseverance.