Photo by Billy McEntee
They scamper onto the stage with all the manic glee of Barbra Streisand’s rendition of “Jingle Bells.” Cabaret performer Daphne Always and her pianist James Sheppard, Santa’s little helper, adorn the Laurie Beechman Theater with dollar store decoration: candy canes, a glitzy tree, some red and silver garland. It’s almost as if they didn’t know they had a show, almost as if they forgot to check the Advent calendar and see that Christmas is but ten days away.
“I have a hard time with Christmas,” Daphne tells us after she’s haphazardly decked the stage. Nonetheless, she brings the cheer (boozy and emotional) in an hour-long set that’s part confession, part Christmas cabaret. Her one-night-only show, Muddle Through Somehow, is a welcome addition to the bittersweet holiday shows queer and off-kilter performers have long brought to New York. Jinks Monsoon and BenDeLaCreme appeared at Town Hall this year; in years past, Meow Meow brought her coal-ridden baggage to BAM, as have Kiki and Herb, and, back in Manhattan, Bridget Everett at Joe’s Pub asked, “Anyone ever sit on pop pop’s lap while he tells you about the feet of snow he trudged through to get some milk while he cops a feel of your left tit,” or something insane like that, all while guzzling Chardonnay.
Daphne’s preferred drink is bourbon, and she and James pour some for the sipping throughout. (Consummate professionals, it never hampers her frisky vocals or his gliding fingers, though at one point a rogue jingle bell did fly off Daphne’s wrist and head for the audience. What, you haven’t been naughty once this year?) Unhinged and delightful, Muddle Through Somehow makes a welcome addition to the canon of bizarre holiday performance pieces. For those who feel the Catholic mass may be too rigid, come warm your feet by Daphne’s hearth, and do leave the kids at home.
Daphne croons beloved yuletide hits with a saucy twist. Faith Hill’s “Where Are You Christmas?” gets fresh lyrics, the more wholesome of them asking, “Who was that Dutch guy I met in FiDi?” Even a gingerbread man isn’t spared bawdy humor; chomping its two arms off, Daphne reveals, “Now it’s a penis.” The resemblance is uncanny.
Bits follow, including where James and Daphne write out Christmas cards (“Can you believe we haven’t gotten to them yet?” Daphne asks), and later she shares motivational signs created for holiday gifts. Spiraling, Daphne conveys her mental health state, not that you hadn’t picked up on it: written over scenic wintry clip art, the adages suggest suicide as ways forward. “None of this matters” one reads; another, “Give up if you have to.”
And I guess we could! Times is hard, and living sometimes sucks. But til our fateful day, another approaches: Christmas, and how lovely to get to spend a piece of it with Daphne and James.