ELVIS HAS LEFT THE BUILDING AND DRAG QUEEN UNIVERSITY IS OPEN AT THE CENTER REP
“I can’t just make a drag queen out of thin air” says the show stopping J.A. Valentine as Miss Tracy Mills and is the perfect Queen for the Holiday Season. GEORGIA MCBRIDE is the ideal guest for your Thanksgiving party.
Review by Vince Mediaa
Elvis and some marvelous campy Drag Queens have taken over the Margret Lesher stage at the Walnut Creek CenterREP. THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA MCBRIDE a play by Matthew Lopez now on stage through November 26th. Directed by one of my favorites Elizbeth Carter who just finished staging WOLF BOY a sold out run at the Shotgun Players. Artistic Director Matthew M Morrow says “What playwright Matthew López does so brilliantly in GEORGIA MCBRIDE is conjure a land of possibility where one can evolve and change. In 2014, it was unthinkable that drag artists could be so hatefully targeted, banned, and vilified. Almost a decade later, bringing Lopez’s affirming and joyous play back to the stage is an act of resilience and a testament to the inclusiveness, love, and unity the queer community truly represents.”
As the story begins we meet Casey, a two bit Elvis impersonator in a off-the-beaten-path Florida bar. Casey, played by the impressive Joe Ayers, soon finds out from his boss Eddie, played by local favorite Alan Coyne, that his Elvis act needs to leave the building. Back home his wife Jo played by the terrific Sundiata Ayinde tells him that he’s going to be a new father – Casey soon finds out Eddie has hired a new act starring Miss Tracy Mills played by the flawless J.A. Valentine, a female impersonator deluxe Queen. When Tracy’s partner-in-drag Rexy played the exceptional Jed Parsario collapses dead drunk during a show, something must be done – and quickly. Eddie threatens to fire all three if Casey doesn’t go on in her place. Casey now a bar tender, has no interest in drag, but the show must go on. The question is, can Casey master the wigg and heels. Tracy becomes the classic “Drag Mom” and Lopez's story begins to get interesting.
Casey gradually gains confidence when he’s reborn as a glamorous drag queen. Tracy tells him “Take your clothes off, we are changing you into a girl”. Valentine's true skill as a working Drag performer in the Bay Area comes into perfect play for this role “Beauty hurts - I can’t breathe - that's how you know it's working”. Fish out of water Casey struggles to deal with his new acting role, and Ayers is awkward at making his transformation to his new persona Georgia McBride. His first try at lip syncing is clumsy and hilarious, Tracy tells him to mumble “watermelon motherfucker’ it works every time”. Many of the lines in Lopez’s script are part of the drag community; Valentine snaps “Let's get out there with our tits up and our testifies tucked”.
Carter's direction is clever and lively, as she lets us view backstage reality watching the two actors fast change. Drag gowns are not easy to squeeze into and as we watch a montage of lip syncing performances, off stage. Carter allows the audience to see the Ayers and Valentine transform into their many drag personas. It's a brilliant visual part of this production. The drag performances are entertaining if not a display of great musical talent by Valentine, Ayers and later in the story by Parsario. With Becky Bodurtha over- the-top costume offerings and Chris Steels Drag coaching the songs from Madonna to Dolly Parton truly dazzle us with energy, color and sparkle. Many of the best laughs are Tracy and McBride entrances in a new camp outfit.
Alan Coyne’s as Eddie is featured as the host of the many Drag performances and he is sharp. Coyne’s arc from money hungry boss to friend of the queens is a charmer. Some predictable drama ties down the second act as Rexy comes back and demands his job back. The most powerful scene in the show is a monologue by Rexy on what drag means to her. “Drag ain’t a hobby, baby…drag is a protest!” Parsario’s intense monologue is fiercely outspoken “Because I am a drag queen bitch drag is not a hobby drag isn't a night job drag is a protest drag is a raised fist and a sequined glove drag is a lot of things but its not for sissies”. Parsario also plays Casey's landlord Jason, a gentle, soft-spoken minor character, his expert ability to transform the roles is convincing.
By the end, as club music throbs, it hardly feels like a two-hour play without an intermission. Ayers sings the one original song in the show, "Lost and Found", he shows off an ideal voice making one wish there were more opportunities for him to sing in the show. Ayinde is a fearful mother-to-be her character is not as developed as others in the play. Jo is left in the dark during most of the story until she arrives at the bar to find her husband in a wig and heels. The scenes that she does provide some tension for Casey and his newfound career. One of the themes of THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA MCBRIDE is discovering your passion and overcoming your fears, something at the heart of drag itself. Casey finds, in Georgia, a way to tap into his love of performing while becoming someone who is better, stronger, and more self-confident.
The craft team features a clever scenic design by Kelly James Tighe, with an easy turn around stage for the drag performances. The costumes by Becky Bodurtha, are non stop camp with mile high wiggs and to die for heels. The sound by Jake Rodriguez rides the show as the lip sync pop tunes are non-stop. The lighting design by Aaron Spivey sparkles during each drag number as he kept the back stage lighting focused on the many costume changes. Shout out to the dressers Tyler Clark, Edie Olson, and Linda Wu. Props designed by Alyssa Tryon included plenty of kegs of beer make up bags and snap hand fans. Kimily Conkle serves as dialect coach, Jeuneé Simon leads intimacy direction/cultural competency.
As the story ends Casey has found his new persona as an Elvis inspired drag performer, and Tracy and Rexy clearly snap their heels and wigs. Lopez’s characters are free to explore deeper themes as the story shows a taste of drag life with its highs and lows. It also brings to light Casey's struggles and his ability to find a camp solution via the larger than life persona of Miss Georgia McBride. Carters direction is a celebration at times including the drag performances that end the show. J.A, Valentine is a standout as the classy Queen Miss Tracy Mills who many times steals the show. The audience was on their feet dancing with the five member cast. Learn how to be a drag queen this Thanksgiving month. Next up at the CenterRep A Christmas Carol opens Dec 7th, but in the meantime dust off your heels and wig and join the fun at THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA MCBRIDE.
CENTER REP COMPANY PRESENTS
The Legend of GEORGIA McBRIDE By Matthew Lopez Directed by Elizabeth Carter
Drag Consultant Chris Steel
WITH: JOE AYERS, J.A. VALENTINE, JED PARSARIO, ALAN COLE AND SUNDIATA AYINDE
Must Close November 26, 2023
Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek
Photos by Kevin Bernes