Varla Jean Merman Loves a Foreign Tongue

Drag star Jeffery Roberson’s alter ego Varla Jean Merman (spawn of Ernest Borgnine and Ethel Merman) regales us with her insanely banal reflections on traveling abroad – opinions weighted toward the joys of finding easy sex and a MacDonald’s in the middle of Rome. This new show, which includes appearances by opera tenor Mark Cortale, features about 70 minutes of stereotypical “international” costumes (red taffeta, lederhosen and a particularly obscene banana skirt), sleazy double entendre songs, bawdy videos and a running commentary that reveals Varla’s presumption to be the center of the universe. Her observations are blithely condescending (“Foreign people aren’t like us”), while Varla’s conversations with audience members prove to be exquisitely crass. (“How do you say, ‘This sore is not contagious’?”) After she draws a shrug from an audience member when asked how to say “bacon” in Spanish, Varla helpfully prompts, “Well what’s the word for ‘dog’?” The familiar Varla Jean personality traits are all here: jawdropping shallowness, abject professional failure and incurable nymphomania. But Robeson’s character also turns a neat trick that makes the evening slightly political in the moments when Varla Jean’s lack of curiosity about other cultures equates gay self-absorption with Heartland cluelessness about the world beyond America’s borders. It’s a hilarious performance that you never want to end and that reminds us again of its auteur’s wicked imagination. Thursdays, 7:30 p.m. Starts: Feb. 28. Continues through March 27, 2008