Kathy Najimy Makes Her Provincetown Debut
by Steve Desroches
Chances are Kathy Najimy is in one of your favorite movies or television shows, and she is quite likely the reason you love it so much. For almost 30 years the actress has captured the hearts and minds of audiences with her impeccable comedic timing, the sensitivity infused into each character she creates, and her uplifting effervescence that makes every role she plays so memorable. Whether it’s Sister Act or Hocus Pocus, King of the Hill or Veronica’s Closet, or her landmark off-Broadway work with Mo Gaffney on The Kathy and Mo Show, Najimy’s career is loaded with those scene-stealing moments that make her such a beloved fixture in comedy.
For many, Najimy is also regarded as someone who uses her platform in our culture to work toward equality and justice. An activist since the early 1970s, Najimy has been on the forefront of movements as a feminist, for LGBT rights, HIV and AIDS awareness, animal welfare, and reproductive rights. She’s a consistent presence at marches as a keynote speaker at the Millennium March on Washington for gay rights in 2000 or more recently with her megaphone at the Women’s March in New York City in 2017. But she also has spent her time doing grassroots work under the radar, away from cameras. She walks the walk. Her life both on and off screen is fascinating, and is the basis for her solo show Lift Up Your Skirt, which she’s bringing to the Art House this Sunday for one night only.
“It’s not the story of my life, just a few good stories from my life,” says Najimy. “I managed to include a funny song about having type 1 diabetes.”
Producer and Art House artistic director Mark Cortale contacted Najimy several years ago about doing a show here in Provincetown, suggesting she and her good friend Kristin Chenoweth do something together. While they are the best of friends, Najimy says their “performance styles could not be more opposite.” Alas, Chenoweth played Provincetown a couple of times, and now the stars have aligned for Najimy to do the same with this show, which she’s taken to Australia for the Adelaide Theater Festival as well as San Francisco, Fire Island, New York, and on the main stage of both RSVP and Atlantis cruises.
Najimy presents stories that include a visit to her Lebanese immigrant parents’ birthplace in Beirut, growing up in San Diego, dancing through the disco era, her early experiences with the gay rights movement and awakening as a feminist, to some of her most memorable moments as an actress, including being a super fan of Bette Midler as a teenager only to be cast alongside her in the Halloween cult classic Hocus Pocus.
Of all of her work, perhaps no other project on her resume has had the kind of life to it that Hocus Pocus continues to have. Released in the summer of 1993 by Disney, Hocus Pocus tells the story of the Sanderson Sisters, three witches who suck the lives of the children of Salem and are hanged on Halloween night 1693 only to come back 300 years later to exact their revenge in this children’s comedy. Starring Najimy, Midler, and Sarah Jessica Parker, it was a modest success at the time, but the film has gone on to bona fide cult classic status, helped in no small part by its broadcast in heavy rotation each October. It’s also found a niche in LGBT culture, with frequent drag queen parodies, including this past summer’s hit show Hocum Pokem at the Art House, starring Peaches Christ, Jinkx Monsoon, and Liza Lott. It’s also become a favorite Halloween costume idea here and in other gay hotspots like Wilton Manors, Florida, and West Hollywood. Najimy is well aware of the cult status of the movie and laughs a laugh of familiarity when the name is mentioned. Turns out that perhaps the success of the film is a little bit of unexplainable hocus pocus itself.
“I’ve been in over 30 films, and when you’re making a TV show or film you don’t have any idea if it’s going to be a hit or will go straight to video,” says Najimy. “I honest to God have no idea why. Look, when Bette and I are in it, it’s going to have a little drag in it. We were all so different, too. But I have no idea why.”
While this marks Najimy’s Provincetown stage debut, this is not her first time working here. She came to Provincetown for the first time in 2011 while filming BearCity 2:The Proposal, the sequel set in town during Bear Week adding to her long list of LGBT-specific projects that previously included the 1995 film Jeffrey and as a guest judge on season two of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Already a gay icon, it also made her one in bear culture as well as introduced her to Provincetown, learning the quickest way to reach the Cape tip in the process.
“I loved it so much,” says Najimy. “I had such a great time. I went several times while filming Bear City 2, and it’s a little hard to get to. A lot of planes, ferries, cars, riding on the back of bicycles to get there. One of the producers, who had a private plane was kind enough to let me use it. The pilot and I became friends and he taught to me to fly a little bit. I did take off and landing. I steered the plane. I know its not called steering, but that’s what I call it.”
Kathy Najimy presents Lift Up Your Skirt at the Art House, 214 Commercial St., Sunday, September 9 at 6:30 p.m. Tickets ($50-$150) are available at the box office and online at ptownarthouse.com. For more information call 508.487.9222.