Amber Martin at the Coho Theatre, 2257 NW Raleigh, 232-7072, Fri-Sat 10:30, $12
House of Cunt member Amber Martin's solo show, Hi! incorporates acting, singing, and dancing into a multi-character freak show. The majority of the characters are burnt-out performers playing cafes, casinos, or even hawking their Best of/Worst of albums on TV. While the characters share the common bond of having once held entertainment industry stature, they are otherwise dissimilar. It's surprising, then, that the show is so cohesive and complete. Hi! is the sum of fractured pieces carefully patched together to make a grotesque whole. Kind of like Frankenstein, or Shirley MacLaine.
The unity of Hi! is the result of three things: Martin's absolute commitment to each character; the fact that (nearly) every costume change is done onstage; and a well produced, excellently timed soundtrack. Martin plays every character with force and focus. The humor of the characters is not only in their circumstances, but more in the idiosyncrasies Martin imbues. It's not the characters or the writing that makes this show stand out. It's Amber Martin. The oddities and absurdities of each character could easily be cliché and unimaginative if she didn't so totally embody them.
Martin's presence is so strong she commands the stage even when switching characters. The actual changing of costumes and makeup takes place silhouetted behind a screen, or in front of the audience. It's great, not only because it's entertaining to watch the transformation, but also because she doesn't waste a single moment.
For over an hour, Martin has complete control of the stage, singing and dancing through strange originals and classic covers such as a hummed version of Zeppelin's "Communication Breakdown." The prerecorded music for the songs is awesome, and so is the rest of the sound design. The timing of the sound is right on, and works so well with what Martin is doing onstage, you'd think she were controlling it.
Martin has such great presence. I'd enjoy watching her throw clay, or give a dog worm medicine. Lucky for me, she's also a good producer and knows how to construct the perfect environment to accentuate her abilities. M. WILLIAM HELFRICH