“So, what exactly is the paper’s policy on printing curse words or lewd descriptions of sexual acts and body parts?” It’s not a question a theater critic gets to ask one’s editor often, but when you’re handed the assignment of reviewing Bridgett Everett, these become pertinent questions.
Everett, the six-foot-tall, hulkingly bodacious, scantily clad, mostly braless, raunchy alt cabaret songstress who drinks brown-bagged chardonnay throughout an act that sees her motorboating herself against the faces of audience members, is a bit of a sensation right now. Hip New Yorkers know her from her sell-out shows at Joe’s Pub at The Public Theatre. Amy Schumer fans have had a taste of Everett’s style of filthy-funny singing on Inside Amy Schumer and have also witnessed her scene-stealing cameo in Schumer’s Trainwreck. Plus, there’s Everett’s solo Comedy Central special Gynecological Wonder, which aired this past summer.
And now, thanks to a new Joe’s Pub performance series here in Houston, those craving something decidedly dirty in their theatergoing experience get to cozy up to Everett, and her body parts, for four performances at the newly opened Midtown Arts & Theater Center (MATCH).
In case it isn’t obvious by now, this ain’t a show for the underage or the oversensitive.
It would be easy to simply say that Everett sings a bunch of unapologetically and at times outrageously dirty songs for an hour, interspersed with some comically coarse chitchat, inelegantly thrusting dance moves and physically bawdy audience interaction. Not only would it be simple, but it would be utterly correct. However, the brilliance of her act is not purely in the shock value of what she’s singing but the how and why.
“Everybody better freak the fuck out…we’re gonna fuck some shit up!” This, the opening hard-rocking number sung like a battle cry, is Everett’s warning to the cabaret style-seated 150 or so audience members. If patrons were unsure what they were in for, Everett, in a deep-V-neck, droopy-cleavage-barring, sleeveless, flowy purple maxi dress, lets it be known right away. With wine-spitting, breast-baring and trucker-mouth bravado, Everett takes charge and we'd best get on the ride and have fun.
And fun is what her show is about. With energetic sass, Everett describes true love as “when he knows not only when to choke you as he’s fucking you, but how hard to do it” and dedicates a song to “all of you with a pussy, and I’m not talking about a vagina; I’m talking about a pussy,” but as fierce a presence as she is, there’s no anger or threat to her roar. Instead, she uses the frank near nakedness of her Botticelli-like, voluptuous figure (which she exposes with several revealing costume changes) and unapologetic talk of explicit sex to make the audience lean into the shock, process it as nothing more than a good time. In turn, we happily play along with encouraging hoots and hollers.
Of course, if the songs weren’t interestingly funny, the show would dry up as quickly as…well…an unlubricated orifice. But with guitar-thumping numbers like Proud of What Your Mama Gave You, which celebrates breasts of all shapes and sizes (little nippies, tube socks, beaver tails, low riders, tic tacs, etc.), encouraging everyone to “put ’em up in the air,” Everett does the almost impossible triple duty of making us laugh, making us question images of perfection and, most important, making every woman in the place feel good and proud of what she's got. And then, of course, just for emphasis, Everett shakes her own ample mammaries skin to skin in the faces of several men and women fortunate enough to be sitting in the front row.
But before you think that back-of-the-house seats will save you from becoming Everett’s plaything, think again. What I Gotta Do To Get a Dick in My Mouth, an anthem-like song that pretty much explains itself, finds Everett wandering among the audience allowing the completely riled-up crowd to take their turn at singing the stadium rock, infectious chorus/title. Microphones are shoved into the faces of patrons, men and women, most of whom are only too happy to sing along as they are rewarded greatly by applause from the room.
In the space of an hour, Everett has transformed us from liberal-minded individuals (a fact she acknowledges at the opening of the show when she alludes to the HERO vote and calls it a “bad day for you people yesterday”) to folks who gleefully sing about genitals in our mouths and happily accept strange, sweaty, pendulous breasts smacking our faces again and again.
With all the riotous foul-mouthed sex talk, partial nudity and audience spotlighting, it’s easy to overlook Everett’s powerhouse, classically trained singing and how important her talent is to the success of the show. In the final number, the leopard-undies-clad Everett — sitting on the face of a good-sported audience member brought up onstage as a prop — unleashes her pipes amid the raunch and lifts the veil on the true talent lurking beneath the audacity. Miley may rule the pop world, but no one can deny that Everett’s rendition of Cyrus’s The Climb isn’t chill-inducing despite the crazy physical antics she employs with the audience member along the way.
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This calls for pause. Why would a woman with such talent resort to such funny filth to get noticed? Is she trying to show the world that women can be as perverse and sexually outspoken as men? Is she stumping for the rights of plus-size gals to be accepted as sensual beings with as much right to be horny and sexually adventurous as the rest of humankind? Is she moving past a feminist agenda and simply showing off what makes her laugh as an individual? All or none of these honorable mindsets may be the case. And you have to respect her for not telling us which if any of these agendas motivate her. But without understanding comes a hitch in Everett’s shtick.
Unlike successful comedic performers who hone and refine their acts along a lasting trajectory, Everett, with her "get almost naked and rub myself on the audience while singing dirty songs" persona, has pigeonholed her act in a single-note direction. As enjoyable as her tightly realized one-hour show is, we most definitely grow tired of her constant audience antics and her expletive-ridden songs that really don’t take us on any journey other than the dirty joke of the moment.
In other words, in Everett’s present form, this is a bloom off the rose kind of show that you can see and enjoy once (if it’s your cup of tea) and then never again. At least not to the same enjoyment factor. This would be a shame, as vocally fluent and comically lithe female performers don’t come around every day. Those of us old enough to remember can’t help likening Everett to a modern-day (and much coarser) Bette Midler. Here’s hoping that like the Divine Miss M, Everett finds new directions to take her act so that we can come back for more diverse offerings of the wind beneath her braless wings.
Bridget Everett continues to November 7 at MATCH, 3400 Main. For tickets, contact lottentertainmentpresents.com or call the MATCH box office at 713-521-4533. $50