By Charles Brousse
Are you among those who find watching drag queens do their thing on stage exciting? Are you attracted by the thought of observing the graphic details of how men transform themselves into caricatures of women with wigs, costumes, makeup and figure-altering “enhancements?” Does the quality of the script and performances matter less than the performers’ ability to connect with their audience and deliver an entertaining show?
If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, you should consider attending Marin Theatre Company’s (MTC) Bay Area premiere of Matthew Lopez’ The Legend of Georgia McBride, the final production (through July 9) of its 2016-2017 season. If you answered “yes” to all three, get on the telephone or internet NOW and make your reservations. This show is for you!
Lopez’ previous connection with MTC was the well-received 2013 production of The Whipping Man, an intense drama set in Richmond, Virginia near the end of America’s Civil War. A pair of liberated black slaves risk their lives caring for the seriously wounded Confederate son of their former owner. The setting, style and overall “feel” of this earlier work are so completely different from what we encounter in Legend, that it’s hard to imagine that they are by the same author.
We’re now in present-day Panama City, a backwater town on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Adam Magill is Casey, a sweet-tempered, personable young Elvis impersonator at Cleo’s, a rundown nightclub. His passion for the “The King” blinds him to the obvious fact that his audiences have been drastically shrinking, compelling Eddie (John R. Lewis), the club’s flamboyant owner, to conclude that a change of format is needed. For Casey, the timing couldn’t be worse. Lacking the rent money for their apartment, he and his anxious wife Jo (Tatiana Wechsler) may soon be homeless, a prospect that takes on greater gravity when she announces that she’s pregnant.
Then, suddenly, fortune intervenes. The drag queen act of Rexy (Jason Kapoor) and Miss Tracy Mills (Kraig Swartz) is barely in place and beginning to draw crowds to the club when Rexy’s drinking problem forces him to leave the show. A desperate Eddie asks Casey to fill in “temporarily,” but is initially rebuffed. Aware that his financial situation is deteriorating daily, however, the latter decides to give it a try without telling Jo, whose strict moral code might be an obstacle. Miss Tracy takes him (and us) on a crash course through the basics: How to dress, the use of overstuffed bras, hip pads, wigs and heavy makeup and, most importantly, how to lip-sync and “sell” the songs by well-known performers (Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette, Lady Gaga and others) that are the core of their show. Casey’s a fast learner and, as the duo’s popularity grows, he realizes that he doesn’t have to be gay to be a drag queen—it’s simply a role that he can play successfully and be handsomely rewarded for it. Gone are the days of poverty and insecurity for him, Jo and their baby—a resolution that Jo, despite her doubts, ultimately embraces.
By the end of two intermission-less hours, it’s “feel good time:” Everything is neatly tied up and the audience is ready to cheer, loud and long. No matter that the script is weighed down with clichés, or that much of the plot strains credulity.
This is not a work of theatrical art that should be judged as such. Nor does it make a convincing case for the social or moral value of informing the public about the life of drag queens and their contribution to the American cultural scene. The Legend of Georgia McBride is entertainment—a “show,” pure and simple. As such, it depends upon the ability of the performers and director Kent Gash to persuade ticket-buyers to overlook the author’s inadequacies and decide that their efforts—irrespective of any shortcomings that they also might have—are worth watching.
Go and judge for yourself.
NOW PLAYING: The Legend of Georgia McBride runs through July 9 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley; 415/388-5208; marintheatre.org.