Cherdonna and DONNA surround an audience member during a performance of 'DITCH' at the Frye Art Museum. Photo by R. Barron.

DITCH: Cherdonna & DONNA’s Circus Comes to an End

For all its clownish appearance, Cherdonna Shinatra’s DITCH is an important performance. You have only two chances left — this Saturday & Sunday afternoon — to see it.

 

Acclaimed local female drag artist and Stranger Genius Award-winner Cherdonna, accompanied by her new sextet DONNA, has one simple goal in her latest performance (called DITCH): to make everyone in the room happy.

At the admission-free Frye Art Museum on First Hill, Cherdonna and DONNA have been at it for three months now, performing the show once every day the museum is open — meaning just about every day but Mondays, some 80 shows in all by the time it closes.

But if you’ve been putting off seeing this admission-free show, don’t wait — this Sunday is your last chance to see it.

I finally caught it last week, and I’m glad I did. It’s a surreal and potent journey, in under an hour’s runtime.

The first part of the journey is taking in the performance space itself, which is something to behold. The colors are overwhelming: it’s like a tornado hit a neon paint factory and shot its targets every which-way, then someone came along and ordered the chaos as best they could. An enormous head, in the same color scheme and with expression, makeup, and hair all looking kind of askew, greets you near the gallery entrance. Shocks of color line all of the walls, and it takes a second to realize that a woman’s body is adorning the three walls, then a second longer to realize the body is decapitated and her head was the one you just walked by. I assume that realization sequence is part of the point.

Similarly brightly colored benches line the length of the room, though capacity allows for much more than will fit on benches so others end up standing near the entrance. Since taking in the audience is as crucial as taking in the performance, get there early and get a good seat.

And then the performance begins at its appointed time, first with Cherdonna getting “birthed” from the giant body and taking in the crowd, a little shyly at first. And then all six members of the new dance troupe (“DONNA”) follow, and Cherdonna gets a lot more animated. The performance is a carnival, full of clowning and hula hoops, not unlike a somewhat unhinged birthday party for a child. All are dressed in costumes of neon explosion. The sounds are strange too: carnival music, horses, elephants, and incessant dog barking.

And all the while, Cherdonna and DONNA are VERY excited to see everyone: leaping around, hooping, waving. None of them talks. Cherdonna retrieves a child-sized Big Wheel trike, on which the big wheel keeps flipping over to the side, taking her nowhere fast. At some point she (nonverbally) asks an audience member for a push, which also sends her nowhere fast. A bit dejected, she keeps her game face on.

As you may suspect, making everyone in the room happy is not in fact a simple task, no matter what heroic efforts go into it. And it’s that truth, not the stated goal (of simply making everyone happy), which is in fact the center of the show.

Most of the 40 people in the room respond well to the performers’ antics, taking them for what they are: goofy and cute and occasionally funny; well-choreographed (it’s deceptively difficult to keep seven people flowing smoothly in the narrow space); bright and happy and colorful; a most un-Seattle scene. But at least two audience members are visibly stoic, both men, both seated right across from me.

Cherdonna tries to win them over, focusing her attention on one, and at one point crawling out from behind the bench and shooting out from his legs. Like another birthing.

She was gleeful. He was not.

At that point, an audience member audibly snorts. It’s too much — the visual contrast, of her antics with exuberance and his stoicism — and it’s delicious.

There is another piece of the performance that doesn’t fit neatly in this narrative and doesn’t fit neatly in the show either, but is nonetheless an important one. At one point, Cherdonna and a DONNA member shove each other, and snicker about it — in such a way that’s suggestive of women and girls harming each other, cutting each other down in a Mean Girls sort of way. It’s a brief and uncharacteristic but important piece, in an otherwise largely colorful and antics-filled setting.

All this goes on until about the halfway point, at which the music and routine changes. Cherdonna remains at the center, while DONNA begins a routine that paces the floor, lengthwise, to a redundant sing-song saying.

Lay down at 5
Jump up at 6
And start all over again

Their routine leaves Cherdonna to either move with the flow or get trampled. Increasingly, it’s more the latter.

Repetitive to start with, this goes on and on and on and on. And it’s here where audience members start fleeing, hemorrhaging from 40 down to 26 by the end. (To their credit, the stoic men stayed put.) It was repetitive. It was annoying. It was also, arguably, the most crucial part of the piece, where everything comes together.

As Cherdonna tries to make sense of it and catch up, the force of DONNA just keeps moving. She’s tried her best, and she’s still getting creamed; and each time, she grasps out to them, trying to connect with them in vain. This goes on for 20 minutes.

And then, finally, the DONNA troupe leaves.

In the end, Cherdonna is alone with the audience, shy and vulnerable again, exhausted, and missing an eyelash which, in this performance at least, has become dislodged and is stranded unceremoniously in the middle of the floor.

It’s a fitting ending to an unwinnable task.

 


DITCH runs through 4/28 at the Frye Art Museum on First Hill. No tickets are available; attendance is first-come, first-in, and cut off at capacity. For showtimes, see info here. Free tickets are available by online registration to a post-show discussion following the 4/28 show; register here. Accessibility notes: restrooms are multi-stall and gendered. Galleries and common areas are wheelchair accessible.

Cherdonna Shinatra is the drag persona/alter-ego of dancer/choreographer Jody Kuehner. 

DONNA is the six-member troupe comprised of dancer/art-makers Allison Burke, Jenna Eady, Carlin Kramer, Alyza DelPan-Monley, Julia Sloane, and Katie Wyeth.

R. Barron reviewed arts behind the scenes (awards, grants, etc.), before writing for Seattle Gay Scene & NWTheatre.org. Passions include theatre, new works, and arts showcasing underrepresented voices.