“Girls will be boys and boys will be girls, It’s a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world….” the song Lola by the Kinks.
Marin Theatre Company has become one of the beacons of Bay Area theater, and it closes its 50th year with a laugh-filled and touching comedy The Legend of Georgia McBride. Set in the unlikely location of Panama City, Florida, it centers on the world of drag queen entertainment.
Casey is a young married man, amiable and well-intended, but not well grounded. The couple sails close to the wind financially, and Casey is the type of guy who impulsively charges a $12 pizza that causes the rent payment to bounce, so that the pizza ends up costing $90. His meager earnings come from commuting 80 miles to a night club to entertain as an Elvis impersonator.
Since he hasn’t been pulling in any crowds, Casey arrives one night to find that the dyspeptic owner has hired a replacement. It happens to be “Miss” Tracy Mills, a drag queen, who drags along a younger performing associate, Rexy. When Rexy shows up too plastered to go on stage, Casey gets dragged in as a replacement, and so, reluctantly begins a trial.
The roles are somewhat stock, but still appropriate, believable, and sympathetic. As Casey, Adam Magill is that deer in the headlights kind of guy. He has very little going for him and less ambition. His one dream is a dead end, being the great Elvis impersonator. Desperate, Casey agrees to testing out high heels and tapping into his feminine side.
Beyond his/her prime, Tracy fights to keep her career going. She either has the good business sense or the good heart to promote a younger protégé. As Tracy, Kraig Swartz is the perfect drag queen 10. The flamboyant personality, the body movement and gestures, and the snappy wit are in fine tune. If you can use the word natural to describe the characterization of a drag queen, he’s got it.
The play is more likeable than profound. But as with many productions about people who are out of the mainstream and bear scars as a result, the raucous comedy and upbeat music give way to the occasional moment of reflection on what life is really all about. In The Legend of Georgia McBride, at least two such moments occur. One concerns what it is like being a real drag queen away from the glitter of the stage. In the other, a heterosexual man relates a surprise encounter with a transsexual. Both are delivered with excellent touch by Jason Kapoor – as Rexy in the former and as Casey’s landlord, Jason, in the latter.
The proceedings are supported by a music catalog replete with crowd pleasing drag anthems such as I Will Survive, It’s Raining Men, and Stand by Your Man. As is common in drag performance, songs are lip synced. Although that lends to authenticity, it sacrifices the greater energy and urgency that come from live singing.
Production values are good. Use of a single compartmentalized set for all of the venues is efficient and for the greater part effective through the use of sliding walls and drop curtains. However, some of the stage left action is blocked to some patrons, which is a preventable deficiency. Lighting is very active and disco-like during the drag performances.
One hot button issue that has arisen in discussions since the play’s opening is why a non-drag performer was brought in for the Tracy role when San Francisco has an abundance of drag performers. This writer, who has also seen and enjoyed Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (reviewed) and the Oasis drag production of Sex in the City – Live! in the past two weeks, argues that the company made the right decision. A seasoned local drag performer could possess the skills required for the role, but would also possess an indelible iconography. Instead of the audience perceiving Tracy as a new character who unfolds in the context of an ensemble and a larger dramatic arc, the persona of known drag performer could color expectation and evaluation. It is worth noting that the same issue can apply to the current production of Priscilla…..
The Legend of Georgia McBride by Matthew Lopez is produced by Marin Theatre Company and plays at their stage at 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley, through July 2, 2017.