For many Jews, the term “festival of lights” evokes a desire to burn menorah candles, give presents, and be near friends and loved ones at Hanukkah. For “DeeDee Queen,” it also means belly dancing, fire eating and strip teases.
Ms. Queen — her drag name — and performing partner Scarlet Conte this summer formed Curtains Cabaret, a burlesque company that puts on a selection of shows combining traditional theater with provocative dances. At Hanukkah, they will bring a “regular burlesque” show to Redwood City, Queen said.
“Each of our acts brings something different to the table,” she said. “We have a tap dancer who is belly-dance inspired. We have someone who does an aerial act and someone who does comedy and storytelling.”
Added Queen with a laugh, “Scarlet is a fire eater, so we’re going to be lighting a menorah, but doing it slightly differently.”
“Oy, Humbug!” incorporates many Jewish performers — including Queen and Conte — and Jewish themes. But, Queen acknowledges, the target audience is the less conservative Jew. “This definitely is not a family friendly show,” Queen said with a laugh.
“Everything is covered!” she added. “But yeah, don’t bring your kids.”
The one-night-only affair debuts Dec. 24, Christmas Eve and the first night of Hanukkah, at the Dragon Theatre.
As Jews, said Conte, a Brandeis University graduate who grew up in a Conservative household, “we know all too well that not everyone will be home sipping cocoa around the tree on Christmas Eve. … We also know that there are plenty of people who are looking for something fun to do on a Saturday night when everything else shuts down for the [Christmas] holiday.”
Jewish revues are no stranger to theaters and clubs. Oasis in San Francisco regularly puts on “Mazel Top,” combining stand-up comedy with some embarrassing audience participation. And the LGBTQ Jewish group Keshet on Dec. 14 held a revue — described as “a big, queer Hanukkah party with live music, Jewish drag queens, comedians … Oh, and fresh latkes” — at Oakland’s Uptown Nightclub.
Where “Oy, Humbug!” stands out, according to Queen, is a pivot away from focusing on stand-up comedy acts.
“We have this underground Jewish burlesque theme that could be blooming,” Queen said. “This is such a cool opportunity to connect with a new audience, especially Reform Jews.”
Born in White Plains, New York, Queen grew up in Boca Raton, Florida, where she viewed her family and peers as essentially “Jewish in name only,” she said.
Queen split her time living in different houses with her divorced parents, along with a stepsister, a half sister, a half brother, and “step siblings who are no longer siblings due to a second divorce,” she said, laughing a little about her complicated history.
She graduated from North Broward Preparatory School and attended the University of Florida, earning a bachelor’s degree in English. Upon graduating, Queen immediately began directing a high school theater department in Boca Raton, and not long after, left that role to pursue a master’s degree in dramaturgy at Columbia University.
Queen dropped out halfway through the program, however, amid struggles with an eating disorder. The experience prompted her to move to California with her mother, who offered her a rent-free bedroom while Queen worked on her recovery, which she said she attained “three or four years ago.”
She happened upon burlesque about two years ago on a date with a man she met on the internet. His best friend was performing in the “Hubba Hubba Revue,” a well-known show that’s been in production at San Francisco’s DNA Lounge since 2006. That was Queen’s tipping point into solidifying her feelings on body positivity.
“To see the female body in every way and size and cheered and being seen as beautiful, that was when I thought: I don’t think I can ever go back and hate myself,” she said.
She hopes to create a one-woman show based on her experiences. It would be called “How Lovely to be a Woman,” featuring a “burlesque journey that’s part therapy, part sparkles and a total drag (the performance art, that is!).
“Oy, Humbug!” 8 p.m. Dec. 24 at Dragon Theatre, 2120 Broadway, Redwood City. Tickets: $10-$20. http://oyhumbug.bpt.me