Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth. — Oscar Wilde*
Male-to-female cross-dressing as a theatrical solution to a societal prohibition—the barring of cisgender women from the stage—began in ancient Greece. From Shakespeare’s time through the height of vaudeville, male actors in female dress have worked the boards. The first “queen of drag,” self-described, was William Dorsey Swann, a former slave who hosted drag balls in Washington, D.C. in the 1880s.
In our woke era of strict deadname and pronoun supervision, drag queens—often “he” by day and “she” by night—remain the most fluid and inventive of our cultural warriors, eschewing “correctness” in any institutionally prescribed form. Signifying both the symbol and its referent, they mirror and explode stereotypes, appropriating whatever works for the act and throwing sweet shade on all detractors.
Today, thanks to the realized dreams of its telegenic godmother/father, drag is a lucrative business and a meta-construct: “I do not impersonate females! How many women do you know who wear seven-inch heels, four-foot wigs, and skintight dresses?… I don’t dress like a woman; I dress like a drag queen!” — RuPaul
Matthew López’s THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA McBRIDE is an affectionate look at a group of struggling performers who have washed up in a Florida panhandle roadhouse. Casey (Taubert Nadalini) has just lost his gig as an Elvis impersonator when in walks Miss Tracy Mills (Jeff Sumner) and her performance partner Rexy—full name Miss Anorexia Nervosa (Donzell Lewis). Tracy happens to be the cousin of the club’s owner (Eddie, played by Tom Trudgeon), and she talks him into letting her put on a drag revue. After Rexy’s fondness for mind-altering substances prevents her from taking the stage, Casey is cast as a quick understudy. In a plot that happily borrows from 42nd Street, Gypsy, and Lypsinka, Casey transforms into “Georgia McBride,” and a star is born.
The production—directed by Jamie Torcellini at International City Theatre—is a perfect combination of strong material and brilliant on-stage talent. Despite its improvisational nature, drag is not a stunt but a calling. Casey is game for almost anything, but as the ingenue of the piece—cute, young, white, straight—he gets his privilege checked and priorities sorted before the end of the play. He and his wife Jo (Karese Frizell) are parents-to-be and his commitment to performing a double life takes its toll. Notwithstanding one very contemporary joke, the rural fantasia of GEORGIA McBRIDE takes place in a sort of pre-social media golden age in the dive bar of your dreams. Last call is June 26.
See link below for details.
Written by Matthew López
Through June 26
Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8 pm
Sunday at 2 pm
Beverly O’Neill Theater
330 East Seaside Way, downtown Long Beach
*Oscar Wilde, The Happy Prince and Other Tales, 1888.
Matthew Lopez, The Legend of Georgia McBride, International City Theatre, June 8–26, 2022, from top: Taubert Nadalini; Jeff Sumner (left) and Donzell Lewis; Sumner and Tom Trudgeon; Karese Frizell and Nadalini; Sumner and Nadalini; Lewis and Trudgeon; Sumner; Nadalini. Photographs by Kayte Deioma and International City Theatre.