Friday, June 20, 2014




Kathy Najimy in LIFT UP YOUR SKIRT


Kathy Najimy is larger than life. I don’t mean in terms of her weight, although she is the first to joke about her battle with the bulge. No need now. She looks great. As she walks onto Adelaide’s Festival Theatre stage, the audience erupts in cheers of adulation. Moments before glimpses of her many roles flash across a large screen at the back of the stage. We are reminded of her acclaimed roles in films such as Hocus Pocus, The Wedding Planner and Sister Act and TV appearances in shows such asking of the Hill, Desperate Housewives and her popular feminist show for HBO, the Kathy and Mo Show. Here is a star who opens with an apology for not being able to sing and then belts out a Streisand number with the force of fireman’s hose. She fills the vast Festival Theatre stage with a cascade of running gags, witty, quicksilver smart, delightfully funny and always with a touch of self-effacing mockery. In an instant, she has her audience hanging on every word, delighting in her effervescent energy and eager to come closer to the real Kathy Najimy.

The year is 2009. Najimy is in hospital undergoing a colonoscopy and the telephone rings. “It’s Bette Kathy. Is this a good time to talk?”  Najimy can hardly wait to ask her teenage idol and close friend what she thought of a show she had recently directed. There is a pause. “Do your own thing, Kathy!” comes the reply and that is where Najimy’s new semi-autobiographical show, Lift Up Your Skirt takes a  side-turn. Her wit remains sharp, her comedy hilarious, her repartee with her musical director, Ryan, easy and affectionate but the comedy now comes with a moral price tag that makes this show more than an acclaimed comedienne’s stand-up.  Her jokes, her anecdotes and her accounts of her encounters with her idol now pave the road to epiphany. There is no need now to joke about her weight or get the laughs at the expense of self deprecation. Najimy is a star on a mission and Bette Midler’s advice guides her through the years. The show is underpinned by her relaxed air, unabashed humour and instant rapport with an audience who have come to revel in their star of stage and screen’s true self. And that is what they get. And much much more. No-one could have seen her account of black comedian Richard Pryor’s homophobic assault at a Gay Rights gathering coming. Or her account of a singing telegram delivered to her idol, Midler, in a big white Bunny suit. Or the irony of Bette’s appearance in a bunny suit in Beaches. Irony is the meat of comedy and there is an abundant store of this in Najimy’s one night stand at the Adelaide cabaret Festival.

Whether divulging accounts of her somewhat dysfunctional Lebanese family, demonstrating her belly dancing technique or showing images of Bette Midler dancing Boogie Woogie “like a penguin on Meth” Santiago born and bred Najimy never veers from her goal to boldly and brazenly lift up her skirt as a metaphorical gesture of courage, defiance and independent spirit. It is the final gesture of her show, a triumphant display of the age-old adage of “to thine own self be true”, a doctrine enshrined in a host of world faiths and ancient philosophies.

Viewers of the Kathy and Mo Show will be familiar with the originality and comedic insight of Najimy’s characters and none more so than her Aunt Maddie, affectionately modelled on her compassionate and tolerant Aunt Alice. Seated on a chair, behind a music stand on which is placed a script from which Najimy occasionally reads, Aunt Maddie espouses her testament to tolerance. Attitudes can change, love is the life force of any relationship whether it be straight or gay, and through Aunt Maddie Najimy champions gay marriage and condemns intolerance. My only reservation is that throughout the lengthy excerpt, Najimy is largely hidden by the music stand, causing a staging alienation. Her Adelaide performance is a trial for her debut on the New York stage, and I expect that she will be more prominent in her presentation of the character.

At an airport. Marge introduces her daughter, June. “She wants to be just like you”. Bette Midler’s voice still echoes down the phoneline. “Do your own thing” and in a crowning gesture to a show that entertains, provokes, inspires and delights Najimy lifts her skirt in feminist pride and the audience rises to its feet in enthusiastic acclaim.