North Bay Cabaret - Sin Peaks at The Whisky Tip, by Patric Carver
North Bay Cabaret - Sin Peaks (photo: Patric Carver)

There’s something to be said for an outfit that hosts a David-Lynch-themed cabaret. It’s not any easy feat. Sexuality is often vital subject in Lynch’s work, but that sexuality is rarely sexy. On the precipice of Twin Peaks return to television, North Bay Cabaret delved into the exciting and strange mind of Lynch with music, burlesque, poetry, and stand-up comedy (yes, stand-up comedy) in this town of Santa Rosa.

The back patio of Santa Rosa watering hole Whiskey Tip is Lynchian in nature. There’s a curtain of evergreens trimming the outskirts of the small stage. There’s a piece of every ramshackle watering hole from every town in this patio pasted together – just the type of off-the-beaten-path Americana Lynch is famous for portraying. The very fact that burlesque is being performed in the outdoors on a summery afternoon ties this to Lynch’s oeuvre. It seems like a set up for a vignette in one of his films.

One of the characters that I met in this patio was Ruth Alison Donovan, visual artist. Surrounded by her own black-and-white Lynch-themed prints, Donovan pulled slow drags on a cigarette while showing her work. Her painted finger nail tapped on a print of the infamous rape scene from Blue Velvet. “I got sick with allergies,” she said, “So, I was stuck in my studio and made all these.” She smiles as I thumb through her impressive collection, ultimately deciding upon a portrait of the man of the hour, David Lynch. The thing about Lynch is he creates so many striking images in his work that it is beautifully overwhelming. Donovan has managed to distill these images down to their most basic level – creating something that can be looked at with a fixated gaze in a way that the chaos of Lynch’s films simply cannot be. She’s truly a remarkable artist.

Dressed in a Twin Peaks cheerleading uniform, producer and emcee Jake Ward ushered a parade of talent onto the stage for upwards of two hours. He stopped at one point to warn the audience that the rest of the show would be at low volume so as not to disturb noise-complaint-issuing neighbors. The speaker volume may have turned down at some point, but the quality of the show did not waver.

Musical act Sebastian Saint James of The Highway Poets showed the crowd what a looper pedal was designed to do with dizzying, train-like vocal arrangements that he recorded and looped live. He was immediately followed by Dangerous Dolly, the first burlesque act of the night, who performed to the David Lynch composed-piece, "These Are My Friends." From there the night followed a path of increasing strangeness. Comedians and poets loosely tied their materials to the theme of the night, with patchy success in winning over all members of the crowd. Donuts flew freely in a somewhat terrifying snack-themed act. No act was unworthy of their time on the stage.

There were some acts, though, that truly stood out. Audrey von Price portrayed an incredible Audrey Horne during a burlesque act that was so smoldering that it seemed as if her transition between fully-clothed and full-reveal occurred by sleight-of-hand. In bad girl style, she committed such antics as putting a cigarette out on her tongue and destroying a cherry pie with her bare hands. It had all the Lolita-esque charm and manically destructive behavior of the original character. Another highlight was the burlesque act of Bella Dukessa, who became the postmortem Laura Palmer, freshly pulled and wrapped in plastic sheeting. I asked Dukessa why she chose to portray the deceased Palmer after the show. “It’s just such a striking image, I think,” said Dukessa, “I mean, that scene when she’s found. That image just sticks with you, you know? There’s that picture of Palmer, the prom queen one, and I knew I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to be that perfect picture. I wanted to be the Laura that was haunting you.”

Truly, Dukessa’s skillful movements and stage presence were haunting. She manifested the transcendent imagery that fertilized her inspiration entirely, In the same regard, drag queen Mary Vice shook the stage with the most bizarre act of the night (potentially of any act) with a homage to the woman inside the radiator from Lynch’s profoundly befuddling science fiction/horror escapade, Eraserhead. Hitting that drag sweet spot between humor and intrigue, Vice twirled on stage while presenting an avalanche of bizarre poses. It was almost like a series of still frames being projected – each one soaked in the terror and despair of Cindy Sherman’s later works. It was strange and it was lovely. I think Lynch would have been proud.

There is a feeling that you get when you watch David Lynch film or television show. It’s a feeling that you just had an experience. Your body tells you that you didn’t travel anywhere, but your mind can’t help but think that you did through the transformative imagery and needling storylines that worm their way into the electrical impulses of your thinking being. Following North Bay Cabaret’s Sin Peaks, I had that same feeling. It was an experience, and a damn fine one at that.

North Bay Cabaret occurs every third Friday of the month at Whiskey Tip in Santa Rosa.

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