SELF-IMAGE: “The wounded healer-clown, that’s how I see myself,” Casey says.
Who is Laurel Casey? If you figure her out, let her know. She’d love to learn that too.
Her night club/bar/lounge act is part-entertainment, part-psychodrama, part-postmodern deconstruction of the audience/microphone-holder relationship, fraught with ten-sions. But then, her life is as well. She recently started playing the Side Bar & Grille, on Dorrance Avenue on Wednesdays from 7 to 10 pm.
As far as Laurel is concerned, it’s high praise to say she runs a crass act.
Wearing a black top hat atop a curly blonde wig, a black miniskirt, black feather boa, and net stockings, Mona Lott — primary personality for the evening — pleasantly points out to a guy looking over his shoulder at the bar how rude it is to sit with his back to her. She goes into her first song, “You’ve Got a Lot of Living to Do.” The big guy looks a little sheepish, smiles and obliges. But it’s a bar. After a while, when she’s not looking, he returns to resting his elbows.
There were about a dozen people in the room, including staff. With no advertising, word-of-mouth was relied on to get out the news of Casey’s return to Rhode Island, her first gig here in six years. This was one of her first shows at the Side Bar, and while there already were more people than the nearly empty room the week before, word hadn’t gotten around yet that Laurel was back in town. If you want to see busy here, you come at the beginning of the week when the “Meatball Madness!” special packs the place.
She’s backed by a keyboard and stand-up bass, and during an instrumental break in the song, she prances about the room, then settles against a post and not so much pole dances as pole gropes. The seeming spontaneity becomes a 10-second study in intentionally awkward improv.
Thanks to Irish genes, good bone structure, and a facelift, Laurel Casey is pretty as well as 55. She works a counterpoint to that in her act, sometimes tearing off her wig like it’s leapt down from a branch, revealing a clipped, gray Laurie Anderson shag.
Thanks to the predations of her mother’s Alzheimer’s, Laurel has spent the last six years out of local sight, taking care of her in Vermont and Florida, until her mother’s death in May. Rhode Island fans checking into her entertainment website (as opposed to her more serious blog site), in recent weeks came across an ad for her Side Bar act as bewigged lounge singer Mona Lott: “She is Back! She’s Blonde! She’s Dumb!”
“I feel Frank Sinatra’s ghost — or I smell it,” she announces and starts singing “Nice and Easy.” Abruptly, she stops. “Hold it! That’s the stupidest song! What’s it doing in my chart book?” She tears the page out, crumples it up and swings into an extrauptempo “You’re Undecided Now.” Prancing around the room, her poodle/Shih Tzu Howard tagging along, she snatches a piece of chicken off a customer’s plate, telling him: “I don’t get dinner.” In a few minutes, when the audience is unresponsive, she advises: “Things could be worse. You could be out here, competing with meatballs for a living.”