Holly Bass's 'Diary': Dear and Delightful

By Lisa Traiger
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, July 25, 2005

No need to tell Holly Bass that she's absolutely fabulous; she knows it, tossing a white feather boa across her shoulders or bopping to the strains of "Fame." Saturday at Dance Place, District-based solo performer Bass basked in the hot white light of center stage in her coming-of-age tale, "Diary of a Baby Diva."

It's the semi-autobiographical monologue of a book-smart girl with a deeply repressed wild streak who grows up, sheds her Christian fundamentalist upbringing, and learns to lip-sync with the best and glitziest downtown drag queens. It's Holden Caulfield meets Sandra Bernhard meets RuPaul.

As a writer-performer, Bass displays a knack for mining the juiciest and tackiest aspects of one of popular culture's more embarrassing eras. Coming of age in the late 1970s and early '80s, when disco ruled, Diana Ross was the diva du jour and high fashion meant big hair and plenty of glitter, Bass's Baby Diva character ultimately finds solace and succor clubbing with her gay friends. But before that, we meet a preteen girl -- with a vivid imagination and dreams of stardom -- who eats alone in the school cafeteria.

In her pleated skirt and Peter Pan-collared blouse, Bass begins as a gawky, awkward kid whose artless but uninhibited dances wouldn't get her a second look at a "Soul Train" audition. But Bass's wicked sense of humor musters up culturally iconic moments snatched from the late '70s -- the choreographed hitch kicks of TV's "Solid Gold" dancers, Ross's overwrought "Mahogany" solo and Michael Jackson's too cool "Ease on Down the Road" number from "The Wiz." While her path to divahood is indisputably funny, it's not without a moral. "We're all doing some sort of drag," the character remarks late in the 75-minute show. "There's corporate drag, suburban soccer mom drag . . . even artist drag."

Indeed. But the evening's richest moment involves a dream sequence and paean to her mother's southern black church roots, revealing the eloquent poet and even, perhaps, the true dancer, hidden beneath Bass's ever-changing wardrobe, poseur attitude and applications of pancake makeup.

Ultimately, Bass's final declaration, bestowing divahood on everyone, lacks the knife-sharp wit and pathos of earlier invocations. By then, though, it's hard to argue with a diva.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company