Kitschy is a demeaning, overused adjective, and it's one undeserved by Tonya & Nancy: The Rock Opera.
Kitsch is about pretension and bad taste. It's about being inferior to something "authentic." This production is about none of those things. I was nervous it would be about all of them.
The theme—Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan's bitter rivalry leading up to the 1994 Winter Olympics—is a golden thread from which drug-hazed hipster reminiscences are half-assedly woven. Even the flyer for the show has all the hallmarks of badly executed trash. But the play defies such expectations: It is brilliant and touching.
It doesn't flinch from Harding's trashy background, nor from joking at her expense, but neither does it preclude the notion that poor women can be heroes. It's a cliché, sure, but also a founding principle of great art.
"My mom is legally blind," sings Lilla D'Mone as Kerrigan, in the introductory number.
"My mom is legally nuts," responds Beth Willis as Harding, punchy as Medea.
A chorus of 10 repeatedly highlights the differences between the two girls, which aren't subtle. But then neither was Dirty Dancing, and neither was King Lear.
D'Mone captures the infuriating whining of the spoiled Kerrigan, but she believes sufficiently in the performance to add some real depth to the character.
Meanwhile, Willis' feisty acrobatics and cries of "Fall Nancy, fall" are just part of her sophisticated portrayal of a good girl struggling with her crueler instincts. Speaking of which, Dale Johannes is both funny and muscularly brutal as Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly. The best song of the production is "When You Wake up Sleeping in Your Car in Estacada," delivered with all the pop rebel integrity of "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" by Culture Club.
But I swear it's not kitschy. If anything, it's Stanley Kowalski, people. Still, Portland, I suspect, will be anxious to deny this production its artistic genius until it's produced in New York, when we'll all have to say, "I told you it was brilliant." Well, I told you it was brilliant.
Let's not be ashamed of something marvelous, just because it reminds us who we are.