2010 Spotlight Award: Jody Kuehner & Ricki Mason

Cringe Theater: Jody Kuehner and Ricki Mason blur the boundaries of gender, dance, comedy and comfor
Posted July 21, 2011

An alien force landed in Capitol Hill’s Oddfellows Building last winter, when every Friday for seven weeks, a sparkly yet mysterious duo known as The Cherdonna & Lou Show performed an unclassifiable act—a series of skits involving lip syncing, tap syncing, piano syncing, modern dance and celebrity impressions. It was a cabaret as if performed by extraterrestrials new to the planet.

“Cherdonna and Lou aren’t that great at anything,” says Ricki Mason, who conceived of and performs as Lou in the duo. “But people relate to that,” adds Jody Kuehner, the mastermind behind Cherdonna, “the fact that they are earnestly trying.”

Cherdonna (full name Cherdonna Shinatra) is the tall one—made even taller by her stacked heels and towering blond I Dream of Jeannie ponytail extension. Her lips have a tendency to pull back from her teeth in a rectangular, insane-hostess way. Lou (Lou Henry Hoover) is the short one, stoic, with a shiny black Mohawk and a disturbingly pencil-thin beard outlining his jaw. Standing together, they resemble a sequined bar graph.

While Cherdonna and Lou may not be at the top of the class, Kuehner and Mason, both 30, have tremendous skills. Their gender-bending act blends physical humor with expert choreography, the high artifice of drag with everyday life and gut-busting goofiness with real pathos. “The timing of comedy and the timing of tragedy are so similar,” Mason notes. “You have to be smart in the same way. If you get the audience laughing, they’re open, and you can bring in a human moment.”

The audience is definitely laughing, despite the fact that neither woman considers herself a comedian. Both moved to Seattle in 2003 after earning B.F.A.s in dance (Mason in Michigan; Kuehner in Florida). Both became involved with a variety of local modern dance companies, including Launch Dance Theater (which Mason directed from 2003 to 2008). They got acquainted over hours of rehearsals, recognizing in each other an eagerness to push the boundaries of modern dance—specifically to include humor.
The two possess a natural grasp of how to convey life’s most awkward and odd moments—which they believe are “inherently funny.” Similar to the genius routines of local drag disaster Dina Martina, Mason and Kuehner perfectly capture the performative train wreck we both adore and fear.

Thanks to The Cherdonna & Lou Show’s success, Kuehner and Mason have been performing at other venues, including last summer’s Northwest New Works festival at On the Boards. They’re currently completing a new show, called It’s a Salon! “We wanted to dive in deeper with Cherdonna and Lou—we’re in their house, getting to know them better. They aren’t putting on a show,” says Kuehner. “It’ll have more of a living-room feel,” she adds. As long as Cherdonna and Lou are there, we’ll pull up a chair. ­

WEBSITE: cherdonnalou.com
NEXT SHOW: It’s a Salon! in the East Hall of the Oddfellows Building, Fridays and Saturdays, October 1–16.

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