When I found the press release for A Very Didion Christmas in my inbox last week, I had two thoughts: What the hell is this? Then, right on its heels: A delightful idea.
“I’ve always wanted to do a weird Christmas album,” says Christopher Frizzelle, the print editor for The Stranger. When he was having drinks with Sarah Paul Ocampo, a longtime friend and local performer (maybe you remember The Typing Explosion?), she mentioned they should do a Christmas thing and then tossed out a title: A Very Didion Christmas. “I was like I don’t even know what that means,” Frizzelle says. But he thought it was funny, and it hits the stage at the new Hugo House this Saturday.
You likely can’t find a more influential living essayist than Joan Didion. She’s known for cataloguing American entropy—the 1960s acid scene in Haight-Ashbury, the Manson murders, the Central Park Five case—with bracing insight and brutally lovely prose. Reading her can feel like walking across broken crystal. She’s also surreptitiously funny, in that way that walking across broken crystal is kind of funny.
Ocampo and Frizzelle had bonded over Didion’s writing (her essay “The White Album” is his “favorite fifty pages ever published”) and karaoke. Both had backgrounds on the stage, Ocampo in dance and music and Frizzelle in high school theater (“I was in The Music Man three times”). So the pair cobbled together these interests and wrote a piece influenced by Kiki and Herb, a punk drag performance art duo. The result is “part dreamscape memory and part lecture hall lounge act,” says Ocampo. Or “kind of like Behind the Music for the literary set,” she riffed later.
Frizzelle will play Manhattan Joan and Ocampo will play Malibu Joan as the two spirits prepare for Christmas. They figured they should take Didion’s literary immortality literally, so Joan Didion has become unstuck in time, can move between present and future. The rest is a rush of nonsense. Britney Spears shows up. The Didion(s) discusses meeting Hemingway and Orwell in the afterlife. Karaoke tracks bend into dark jokes, like “Have a Donner Party Christmas.” (Didion's ancestors broke off from that meat-loving wagon train and ended up, you know, not eating each other. I should note that you do not get to karaoke such tracks, though.)
“Hugo House has this space and it doesn’t have a history,” says Frizzelle of the new theater. “It just seems like a perfect time to be wacky and start doing weird shit.”
It's a couple friends coming together in homage to a writer they love. At the end of a dark year in a streak of dark years, is there a better way to say goodbye to all that?
A Very Didion Christmas
Dec 22, Hugo House, $20