Ladies and Gentlemen … Martha Graham Cracker!

Photograph by Chris Crisman

“Sometimes I feel like Martha’s more well-known than I am — she’s eclipsed me.” Photograph by Chris Crisman

Hard to say what Martha Graham Cracker noticed a few seconds ago as she left the band and the stage and slinked through the crowd. Hard to say why she picked out from the 100 people packed into this blackened room a certain middle-aged white guy in a white button-up shirt, but right now Martha has her legs wrapped around this guy’s neck.

The guy is standing next to a rectangular bar at the back of L’Étage, a nightclub and cabaret off South Street. Martha’s sitting on the bar and leaning back into the bartenders’ space, legs up in the air so that her calves are balanced on the guy’s shoulders, wireless microphone in her right hand. She’s singing Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing” — like, really singing it, powerfully, seriously, an emotionally naked song about desperation and fear, singing it in her strong, lovely voice, a spotlight piercing the dark and illuminating her face.

And part of the comedy here, part of the reason that all 100 people are laughing and clapping in surprise and delight, is that Martha’s not even looking at the guy who is struggling between her legs. Smiling but struggling as a friend or partner films it on her smartphone. Almost certainly a new experience for the guy, being this close to a drag queen, much less a drag queen like Martha: six-foot-two and hairy-chested, hairy-armed, hairy-legged; not a man trying to pass as a woman but a defiantly unmown lawn of a man in a blond pixie wig and a blue dress and six-inch heels that are now crossed behind the dude’s neck in a hammerlock as Martha’s guitarist and bassist and keyboardist and drummer play the Whitney Houston song and Martha sings:
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DO THIS: Pig Iron Theatre’s
“Lights, Ham-eras, Action!”

TIX_Jan_Pig-Iron

Photo courtesy of Jauhien Sasnou.

In 1995, a group of Swarthmore grads decided to start a “dance-clown-theatre ensemble,” performing strange works in church basements. They called it Pig Iron Theatre Company. After nearly 20 years, the brainchild of Dan Rothenberg, Dito van Reigersberg and Gabriel Quinn Bauriedel (pictured, left to right) has become Philadelphia’s most prestigious independent theater group, helping put our theater scene on the map in a major way. (Take that, New York!)

Their annual benefit at the Troc is the biggest single-day theater event in the city, with an 800-plus crowd every time. This year’s punny theme: “Lights, Ham-eras, Action!” Expect drag queens, acrobatics, song-and-dance numbers worthy of an Oscars opening — oh, and pure genius. Fri., Jan. 24, 7 p.m., $25-$150, 1003 Arch St.