Rhonda Ayers
Rhonda Ayers
When it comes to musical comedy, technique and material will carry a performer only so far. What separates the amusing from the truly funny may have more to do with genes than acting or writing skills; some people are just naturally funny. Add good technique and clever material to a performer possessing that genuine funny bone and you'll get someone very much like Rhonda Ayers. This exceptional performer's deliciously dark musical comedy show One Foot in the Grave had us screaming with laughter.

Performing the solo show at Don't Tell Mama with musical director/accompanist Fran Minarik, Ayers walked that delicate tightrope called attitude and never fell into the net of the obvious, easy joke. Her smartly conceived act is built upon self-lacerating humor that cuts into our own experience. What, after all, is more universal than death? Ayers sings and talks about how she (and we) are racing toward oblivion. Doesn't sound funny? Well it is. She begins by singing "When I'm 64" (Lennon/McCartney) in a rocking chair, interrupting herself from time to time to inform us of her various failures. As a rule, we hate it when singers pause within a song to talk because it usually ruins the integrity of the tune; but, throughout Ayers' show, the device works wonderfully well.

Noting with a wry touch that "death is at the center of every cabaret act," Ayers is like a magician pulling comedy out of the black hole of despair. Whether talking about her love life ("I recently broke up with Ben...and Jerry") or wondering why her dead Uncle Harold was wearing glasses in his casket ("Was he driving to heaven?"), she always manages to catch us off guard with her deceptive, offhand delivery. In this carefully calibrated show, she wisely includes a hilarious "Cheer Up Medley" that samples everyone's favorite sappy songs.

The show is a revelation as Ayers moves comfortably between comic bits, like the pie chart of how she spends her time ("You're born, you struggle, you do a cabaret act, and you die"). From her drop-dead funny version of "My Way" (with her own lyrics) to her touching performance of "A Minute" (Craig Carnelia), she proves herself a performer whose work you should absolutely experience before you go to your own grave -- hopefully, well before.

Ayers has been performing two of her shows in rep at Mama's. The one we haven't caught is up next there: It's called Deer in the Headlights and it can be seen on Monday, August 5 at 7pm.