From evangelists to soul sisters, Portland actress shows nothing's sacred
Amber Martin is nine women in one, and they're all certifiable.
She opens her hilarious new solo show 'Hi!' as Tammy Cross, a saccharine evangelist who wears rose-tinted sunglasses and a turban on her head. A crucifix dangles from her necklace, and an artificial bird perches on her shoulder.
Tammy is just a few lines into her Scripture reading when she senses evil. 'Satan, I know you are in this room, and you must leave immediately,' she shrieks. 'Satan, I am not your harlot. I will not play Barbara Hershey to your Entity!'
Martin, 32, wrote and produced the one-hour show. The set is simple, consisting of a makeup vanity, some clothing racks and a screen behind which Martin changes costumes.
She says that Tammy Cross is based on her childhood experiences in Texas and on Tammy Faye Bakker. 'I went to Southern Baptist and Pentecostal churches,' she recalls. 'People spoke in tongues. People think Tammy Cross is comedy, but it's real. I like to scare people here and there. These evangelists are living in this psychotic world.'
'Hi!' concludes a busy year for Martin. Last spring, she belted out Richard Rodgers' songs at Oregon Ballet Theatre's American Choreographers Showcase. She also has starred in '21st Century Funhouse' and 'Late Summer Replacement Special,' two high-buzz variety shows by a performance troupe whose name is too bawdy for publication.
Martin plans to work with the troupe again. For the moment, she wants to be a one-woman powerhouse.
'It's, like, Stevie Nicks always stayed with Fleetwood Mac,' she says, 'but she would go off to do a solo gig. I'm exploiting my God-given talents to the furthest extent.'
Darcy Lynne, a Portland actress who directs 'Hi!' says, 'Amber is lively and energetic. She's very passionate about everything she does, and she has odd, bizarre and fascinating ideas. I'm a support system for her creativity.'
Martin's training as a performer began at the age of 3, when her mother enrolled her in dance classes. In eighth grade, she entered her first beauty pageant, singing Barbra Streisand's 'Evergreen' to clinch victory.
'My parents were unhappy together, and my mom put too much emphasis on me,' she says. 'But my mom didn't have to be a stage mom. I submitted willingly to the spotlight. I remember my mom backstage at the pageants. She would follow me around with glitter spray and say, 'Amby, let me do it!' I hated that part.'
Martin first experimented with alter egos when she was 13. 'I had a tape recorder,' she says. 'My friend Jennifer would come over to spend the night, and we would make tapes instead of going out.
'We took our inspiration from TV shows on social topics like alcoholism. We invented a show called 'Family Analysis,' and I would play the daughter on drugs of an alcoholic mother.'
Comedians Jonathan Winters, Carol Burnett, Eddie Murphy and Gilda Radner influence Martin's comedy routines. 'It's all about what you're watching and hearing,' she says. 'I also use my mom and my Aunt Deborah for material.'
Her mother is the basis for Dottie Write, a psychedelic musician who plays a bass guitar made out of driftwood.
'I want to take you on the kind of journey without Steve Perry,' she tells the audience in a voice that sounds like a wounded sea lion. Martin explains, 'Dottie's what would have happened to my mom if she dropped acid in the '60s.'
The Dottie Write sketch is the only one in which Martin shares the stage with another performer. Andrew Hodgdon, her boyfriend and creative partner, appears as Dottie's scraggly keyboardist, Jaco Lightfoot.
Rocka is another of Martin's musical mavericks. A '70s heavy metal star who destroyed her voice by smoking and screaming, Rocka now speaks through a voice box. 'Hell, man, I'm excited I can breathe,' she wheezes. 'I rocked and rolled, and now I'm paying the toll.'
Martin's multiple-personality trip ends with an appearance by Kuweesha, a singer and dancer with a huge Afro. She sings a soulful song by the Isley Brothers that culminates in the fierce battle cry 'Fight the power!'
'I've always had a thing for funk,' Martin says. 'But there was no place for it when I was growing up. I went to a church where people sang but didn't clap. With Kuweesha, I get to let the funk out of my system.'
About the soul sista' get-up, she says, 'I'm not concerned about people thinking I'm racist. I'm allowed to have as much soul as anyone.'