Couples

Kiki & Herb; Lucia’s Chapters; Our Son’s Wedding
By CAROLYN CLAY  |  June 19, 2007

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KIKI & HERB: They didn’t die for you but you might die watching them.

Between the 2000-year-old chanteuse of Kiki & Herb: Alive from Broadway and the lingering ghost of James Joyce in Lucia’s Chapters of Coming Forth by Day, the Eternal Feminine gets a workout this week. In the Tony-nominated Kiki & Herb, which has been unleashed on Boston by the Huntington Theatre Company (at the Calderwood Pavilion through June 30), a dynamic lounge duo with contradictory back stories — either the singer and pianist met in a 1930s orphanage or they hooked up at the manger — get liquored up and perform loud loungecore covers of material by Radiohead, Scissor Sisters, and the Mountain Goats. In avant-garde royalty Mabou Mines’ mysterious and moving Lucia’s Chapters, which Charlestown Working Theater brought to town last weekend, the shade of Joyce’s troubled daughter tries to negotiate the hereafter. Ultimately she goes with eddying, poetical precision into that good night — something Kiki and Herb promised to do in their 2004 Carnegie Hall concert Kiki & Herb Will Die for You. And though Lucia Joyce spent almost 50 years in mental institutions, there’s no doubt who’s the crazier here. The barking, belting, flimsily clad Kiki DuRane is — as the senior Joyce might have suggested via her name — deranged.

You have never seen anything quite like Kiki and Herb, the alter egos of Justin Bond and Kenny Mellman, who met through Gay Pride, became a club act in the 1990s, then graduated to Off Broadway and Broadway. On Scott Pask’s surreal and sylvan Pee-wee’s Playhouse of a set, Kiki, sporting a camouflage chiffon halter that barely lifts her sagging décolletage, holds forth in a leafless tree that serves as both La-Z-Boy and liquor cabinet. Herb’s grand piano is set before a giant gilded leaf. Hilarious if also scary, the girlishly ghoulish Kiki tells sad tales of the pair’s ostracized youth in a Depression-era “institutional,” not to mention of their acquiring immortality back in Biblical times — a set piece that involves a small, stuffed bovine and a segue into manic-depressive tunesmith Daniel Johnston’s oddball “Walking the Cow.” Much of the pair’s rocking material, which is pounded into the ivories by pianist Herb like Billy Joel on steroids, is from the 1980s and on. As Kiki explains, the venerable pair have trolled for a younger audience because “between AIDS and Alzheimer’s, we haven’t got a fan left over 40.”

Some of what Kiki and Herb do is send-up. Public Enemy’s “Don’t Believe the Hype” is presented as “folk music.” A long ramble about Kiki’s search for the daughter of whom she lost custody when she put the toddler outside so mama could “sweat out” her cancer with a case of vodka and an electric blanket leads into a lugubrious rendition of Dan Fogelberg’s egoistically nostalgic “Same Old Lang Syne” delivered by Kiki with breathless regret, glitter tears glimmering beneath pained peepers. But Kiki is a fierce singer, to whose vocals Herb contributes in barely hinged bursts. And the pair bristle like true if tawdry rockers on Elliott Smith’s “King’s Crossing” and Mark Eitzel’s “Patriot’s Heart.” As a stage outing, K&H’s show would benefit from having a director to trim and shape Kiki’s liquor-laden diatribes and digressions, some of them delivered from a half-wilted heap on the floor. But tell that to the act’s hardcore fans. If Kiki’s liver holds out, this “Year of Magical Drinking Tour” could go on for another 2000 years.

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