Anyone who’s ever seen the Martha Graham Cracker Cabaret knows that the towering (6’8” in heels), hirsute Philadelphia drag queen is used to triumphing over adversity.
“Sometimes the show is about her totally failing,” says Dito Van Reigersberg, Martha’s alter ego. “Failing to completely transform into a woman, imagining herself as this glamorous diva but ending up a clumsy shadow of that. But sometimes she’ll totally succeed, and you’re watching this weird gamble.”
Martha’s most recent trial occurred off the stage, and as in her act ultimately transformed into a daring triumph. A supervisor at Haddon Child Care, an after-school program in Haddonfield, NJ, invited Martha to read Dr. Seuss to children in the program. When officials at the school found out, however, he was forced to rescind the invitation. Parents in Philadelphia rallied to her defense and hastily arranged a packed reading at a local church.
“It turned out beautifully,” says Van Reigersberg. “I felt really bad for the guy who invited us, because he walked in totally naively, with no clue that there would ever be a problem in this day and age. But it was really moving to have people come to my defense.”
This weekend, Martha Graham Cracker will make her second appearance at Joe’s Pub, a decidedly less family-friendly affair that will feature her usual mix of cabaret standards and transformed ‘80s pop hits. It’s
something of a homecoming for Martha, who was created in the mid-90s when Van Reigersberg lived in the neighborhood, studying at the Martha Graham School of Dance. “I’d heard stories about how terrifying and genius Martha Graham was,” he says. “She was one of those people who had a big impact on art but never could quite find personal happiness or satisfaction; she was deeply sad but also tough, which was an inspiration.”
The show follows Martha’s January debut at Joe’s, where she climbed one of the club’s columns and “was treed like a cat for quite a while.” Her return, Van Reigersberg promises, will be completely different, but “I can always say that something weird and uncanny and physically dangerous will occur.”
The Martha Graham Cracker Cabaret
Apr. 6, 11:30 p.m.
425 Lafayette St.