The Legend of Georgia McBride
Bay Area Premiere of Matthew Lopez‘s Sparkling Hit
Wraps Up MTC’S 50th Anniversary Season
In stark contrast to other work in Playwright Matthew Lopez’s award-winning repertoire, this is a fast-paced, hilarious, and charming 90-minute comedy, directed by the prestigious Kent Gash, who helmed other MTC productions (Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Choir Boy in 2015 and August Wilson’s 7 Guitars in 2011).
Marin Theatre Company is thrilled to have this fabulously raucous comedy to wrap up its 2016-2017 Season. The Legend of Georgia McBride premiered in 2015 at the Denver Center Theater for The Performing Arts and has since been produced nationally at the off-Broadway Theater MCC in New York, the Ringwald Theater in Michigan, the Arden Theatre Company in Philadelphia, and most recently at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. Matthew Lopez is also the author of the Whipping Man, one of the most widely-produced new American plays of the last several years. It was produced at MTC several years ago.
When this Critic took her far left seat in the front row,
she saw in front of her a stage covered with a lovely curtain.
(Throughout, the headset was not working well, so the dialogue was hard to hear,
but the non-stop-action was so broad it was obvious as to what was going on.)
Casey (Adam Magill, also in MTC’s recent productions of Native Son and Christmas at Pemberley), an Elvis Presley impersonator, is barely making a living when finds a path to prosperity by becoming a lip-syncing drag queen. He is young, broke, his landlord is knocking at the door, and he just found out his wife is going to have a baby.
To make matters even more desperate, Casey is fired from his gig as the Elvis Presley impersonator in a run-down, small-town Florida bar. When the bar owner, Eddie (John R. Lewis), brings in a B-level drag show to replace his act, Casey finds he has a whole lot to learn about show business and himself! Casey is a decent Elvis Presley impersonator; however, the tiny snippet of his act isn’t enough to form much of an impression. Although it does tell us he is the kind of impersonator who lip syncs instead of singing. We also know he is dedicated…performing in the Florida dive bar is his passion (and the closest thing he has to a job).
The problem is that nobody comes to see his act, so he is being replaced by the owner’s brother’s drag show – right after that, he finds out his wife is pregnant, and they’re on the verge of being kicked out of their home for bounced rent checks! Playing with an endearing awkwardness, Casey is sort of aimless and irresponsible – not really thinking things through, but he and his wife Jo (sympathetically portrayed by Tatiana Wechsler) clearly adore each other, even though she’s frustrated by having to be the responsible “bad cop” all the time.
Kraig Swartz is marvelously wry as Casey’s drag mentor and performing partner Miss Tracy Mills, a middle-aged drag queen who comes down in the world and clings to this gig as her last chance. Jason Kapoor (recently in MTC’s Guards of the Taj and last year’s production of The Invisible Hand) is hilariously sharp-tongued and prickly as the full-time drag queen Rexy. Kapoor also plays Jason — Casey’s amusing bad-luck landlord.
John R. Lewis, as the club manager would be a comic standout in another show. As an inept MC, he clumsily grips his cue cards as if expecting to be booed and the way he undermines the success of the drag queens backstage before their entrances.
At first, Casey is supposed to be awful at drag, yet, for much of the show he and Joe and Tracy have the hesitancy of interlopers, always withholding a bit, rather than fully owning ”awful.” (Ironically, when the more seasoned performers criticized Casey, they could be saying as much about the show’s acting.)
The Lopez script requires us to sit through a drama that can be summed up in 3 words: rent, landlord, and pregnancy. He tries to make Casey’s wife Jo seem more than a nag, by having her identify herself as such. The excellent (and ludicrous) costumes (by Kara Harman) were entertainment all by themselves and did much to compensate – for example, a revealing trench coat with adorable plastic rain covers for strapping onto shoes. Fringe on one of Casey’s coats evokes images of whirling brushes in a carwash, particularly with the mechanical swiveling by Dell Howlett’s choreography. Still, drag requires much more than great attire. “It’s not,” as Miss Tracy says, “a J Crew sweater. You can’t just pull it off and on as easily as that.”
Kent Gash directs the entire show with a deft touch for over-the-top sprinkled with outlandish. He tries to ensure laughs will be had by all and provide moments of soul-searching truths with some sort of self-discovery.
There are a lot of radical transformations during the course of Matthew Lopez’s Legend of Georgia McBride – physical, career, family fortune, and more importantly a sense of self-image and self-worth.
This script takes time to make important points about the bonding and love that happens behind the scenes among stage performers — even among sassy drag queens.
Marin Theatre Company is blessed with a number of highly capable drag performers who might have been tapped for this production (and that is true). Clearly part of the fun for us is seeing actors who aren’t known for drag performances and step up to the roles in high heels! I doubt that the team intended to slight anyone in choosing not to hire working drag queens, but some of us will wonder if this was the best choice and is a point that should be raised and thought about. Still, The Legend of Georgia McBride is full of heart and provides a wonderful opportunity to celebrate Pride month at the theater.
This is not a work of theatrical art that should be judged as such. The Legend of Georgia McBride legend is entertainment – a show, pure and simple. As such, it depends on the ability of the performers and director to persuade us 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. You might just judge it fantastic!
Credit goes to Jason Sherwood as Scenic Designer and Kurt Landisman as the Lighting Designer and Chris Houston as Composer and Sound Designer, as well as Jessica Berman as the Dialect Coach, and Laura Brueckner as Dramaturg. As for the music in the show, the song “Lost in Sound” has lyrics by Matthew Lopez and music by Joe Lippett, Chris Houston and Adam Magill. The Legend of Georgia McBride is wildly entertaining and pure fun.
Its run began June 8 and is extended through the matinee on July 9th, 2017, at the home of the Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley.
Photography by Kevin Berne
Remaining Performances: Tuesdays through Saturday, July 8, 7:30 p.m.
Matinees: 2:00 p.m., Saturday, July 1 and July 8 2:00 p.m., Sunday, July 2 and July 9
For tickets, contact Marin Theatre Company at 415-388-5208, or purchase online at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Coming up next, starting September 28 will be the opening of the 2017-2018 (51st) Season, with Thomas and Sally by Thomas Bradshaw and Directed by Jasson Minadakis
Flora Lynn Isaacson