I went with eager anticipation to my first performance by the renowned Russ King, a.k.a. Miss Richfield 1981. Talented a performer as King is, it will also be my last.
If you haven’t heard about King’s wild and wacky character Miss Richfield, you’re just out of the Twin Cities theater loop. King is always getting rave reviews and constantly popping up, in full drag regalia, in this or that publication. If you’re the least bit interested in over-the-top comedy, you’re probably intrigued enough to wonder just how good his Miss Richfield shows are. Accordingly, when my editor Jay assigned me to interview King in character, I couldn’t wait. By the time I got the chance to contact Miss Richfield, though, she was doing a sold-out show in Mexico. I settled for catching this wildly popular performer in action.
Miss Richfield 1981’s It’s A Coo Coo Christmasis, to be sure, a living hoot from the word go. It starts off with one of the evening’s several short films of Miss Richfield’s zany shenanigans (my favorite was when she went around a boardwalk liberating strangers from the mundane by sheer virtue of her irrepressible spirit). Then, the stage lights go up and she sashays on in one the oddest get-ups you’ve ever seen: her usual Red Cross hair bow and a bird’s nest skirt (complete with eggs)—get it, coo coo? Breaking into an excellent stand-up routine full of snappy, fast-paced material, the delightfully brash Miss Richfield is off to the races and you gladly hitch a ride. Part of it all is impromptu audience participation, which King handles quite nicely, wielding his character with a ready, nimbly flexible wit. When he started in with a flourish of abandon and grew bolder as the crowd got with him, I pulled out my pen and made my one note for the night: if you can’t take a joke, especially at your own expense, do not sit in the first few rows at a Miss Richfield show. I had no idea how those words would come back to haunt me—as I sat, actually, in maybe the 30th row.
The general theme of the night was neurosis, as Miss Richfield made sport of one phobia after another and generally jabbed the hell out of everyone’s funny bone. When intermission came, it was actually disappointing to have to wait for the return of Miss Richfield’s hijinks—including sassy onstage wardrobe changes.
Midway through the second half, though, I saw a side of Miss Richfield I’d just as soon do without. Granted, I had, instead of taking my assigned seat, gone to the top of the raked house and sat in an isolated spot—not knowing that the house lights would keep coming up to make me conspicuous from the stage. As could be expected, Miss Richfield sooner or later found somebody to take a playful swipe at besides the folk in the front. As it happened, that was me. At least two or three times. Kept referring to me as “the homeless guy.” Probably because I had on one of those bulky, Army-surplus-looking camouflage jackets. The full, grey beard and dingy jeans probably didn’t help, either. Throw in the black skin and, well, yeah, I guess I was pretty much out of central casting. I’ve survived homelessness, though, and I can tell you, there ain’t much in the experience to joke about. I decided to roll with it, be a good sport and all that.
When Miss Richfield set up her sing-along, it became clear that my night’s fun was done. She took four or five people up on the stage, popped a snowcap with a Menorah on one guy’s head, and called that representing the Jewish experience of Christmas. Okay, fine. I wouldn’t exactly call it homage, but denouncing it as anti-Semitic might be taking things too far. Next, she stepped to a cheerfully game Latina woman and designated her to represent Kwanzaa by wearing one of those old, early Soul Train type caps—kind of a train engineer’s hat, only blown up at the top in a broad red and white design. Whether she whispered a cue to the lady or the lady took in on herself, as soon as the cap hit her head, the lady turned it to the side. That was bad enough. Then, Miss Richfield produced a set of gold-looking medallions and draped it from this woman’s neck. That archaic stereotype was so supposed to represent Kwanzaa. That’s when I grabbed my camflouge jacket, my shoulder-bag-cum-briefcase, and as quietly and unobtrusively as humanly possible, hit the bricks. On my way out, I looked over my shoulder. The lady in this asinine outfit was grinning like a kid. I have no idea how well she’d’ve taken it had Miss Richfield draped on her a serape with a big plate of refried beans plastered all over the front. I hope she would’ve at least thought twice.
I’m sure the rest of Miss Richfield 1981’s It’s a Coo Coo Christmas was great. One thing’s for sure: I will never find out.