Camping Out

After “singing” her opening number, Dina Martina self-deprecatingly tells the audience that she discourages expectations whenever she can. She then asks those assembled if they’re ready to have an “adequate time.” That’s just about what you get with Dina Martina: Off the Charts!. Don’t expect the cerebral. Expect a lot of bawdy cracks about, well, cracks, and other anatomical features. Expect spastic dancing. Expect plastic bag juggling. She’s been described, perhaps charitably, as a “train wreck in heels.” Dina Martina is a niche comic, catering to a devoted and largely middle-aged gay male audience. This Seattle-based drag cornball hallucination has ardent followers in New York, Provincetown and other cities with large gay communities across the country. She tells the audience that she’s so glad to be back in “The Cuttin’ Rooms” that she’s saving up money to buy the club. This provokes warm applause which she immediately deflates by adding, “Yeah, I’m gonna flip it.”

Ms. Martina sports a balloon-decorated gift bag because “balloons are always festive. Except when it’s the Hindenberg.” Dina soon wades into the audience and distributes off-the-wall chachkas: packages of Trivial Pursuit Ketchup, Saved by the Bell collector’s cards and "gummy T-bone steaks." To her credit, the always-amiable Dina never singles out audience members for cruel or rough treatment.

Some in the audience laughed wildly at nearly every gesture she made. Now, Dina Martina is funny. But she isn’t that funny. Specializing in deliberately lame jokes, and flaunting her grotesque appearance and trademark screeching, she’s tossed a fair number of what can only be described as charity laughs from a loyal audience that simply adores her. It’s like seeing Don Rickles in Las Vegas. You know where most of the jokes are heading but you laugh anyway, because you feel like you know him. And because he looks funny.

Much of Dina’s comedy in this installment involves her caterwauling along with former chart hits such as “Rio” by Duran Duran, Prince’s “When Doves Cry,” and even a sappy selection from the soundtrack of the melodramatic 70s film, Ice Castles. When she tires of a track that goes too long, she simply abandons her earnestness with a wave of her hand and starts munching from a bowl of spaghetti. She strings together off-the-cuff jokes with machine-gun timing and gets unbelievable laugh mileage from deliberate mispronunciations of words like “city.”

Only rarely does Dina attempt to elevate this camp extravaganza above ribald entertainment. I wish she had done so more often. After conning the audience into believing she’s starting a theater for at-risk youth, she drops her bomb: “I have to tell you, these kids are just…useless.” She’s at her best when she fails miserably to comprehend the world around her. Suddenly turning her banter to the topic of “global warning,” Dina gets a lecture she’s heard all wrong, concluding in a fit of twisted logic that fish displace the oceans by taking up space and therefore must all be killed. Here’s Dina's take on global ice melts: “All the ice is melting. All of it! Check your drinks—that’s just while you’ve been sitting there!”

Dina Martina is comfort food for the camp appetite. She’s not groundbreaking—anyone who has seen a couple of John Waters films can imagine what Dina Martina is all about. She’s an agreeable offense to the senses, an endearing nightmare, a fun hour of the absurd.

If you’ve never experienced this type of comedy before, or if you’re simply looking to have a few drinks along with a heavy dose of the ridiculous, then Dina Martina: Off the Charts! is just the show for you.

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