Wednesday, June 21, 2017

"The Legend of Georgia McBride"

The Legend of Georgia McBride
Matthew Lopez

Jason Kapoor, Adam McGill & Kraig Swartz
Elvis shaking his legs in a white jumpsuit, studded with red sparkles and flared in both sleeves and legs.  Drag queens in golden-yellow, butt-showing rain gear, popping their umbrellas and singing of “men” raining from above.  Appearances by Judy, Barbra, Tammy, and a parade of other drag queen faves.  How else should a reputable, respected theatre company named Marin bring its fiftieth year to a close? 

Add to all this frivolity and fabulousness a storyline that shows how the performing arts – even a small-town stage of drag queens -- can bring together folks highly diverse in background, gender, gender identity, race, and personality and turn them into one caring, loving family.  The combination proves Marin Theatre Company’s choice of Matthew Lopez’s The Legend of Georgia McBride is nothing short of brilliant as a way to celebrate the Company’s half-century of making magic on stage and changing the lives of its audiences.

Adam McGill, Kraig Swarz & Jason Kapoor
Casey’s vision is to be the best Elvis impersonator ever.  The fact he is now playing nightly only to six or seven beer-sluggers at Leo’s Bar in Panama City, Florida does not diminish his bright-eyed enthusiasm.  However, the fact he neither brings in many patrons nor takes home more than a few bucks is enough to concern both his boss, Eddie, and his wife, Jo.  Eddie’s solution is to switch from Elvis to Miss Tracy Mills, a drag-circuit queen who’s luck is down enough to find herself playing in the boonies of Florida, bringing along her sidekick -- a vodka-and-pill-loving Miss Anna Rexia Nervosa (Rexy, for short).  When Rexy’s bad habits land her mid-show on the dressing room floor, Casey -- now a reluctant bartender – is soon even more reluctant (think deer in headlights) as he is suddenly being readied to go on stage in skirt, wig, and a face full of make-up to lip-sing a Piaf song – in French.  As Miss Tracy tells him, “Honey, it is lip synch or swim ...  If you can’t remember the lyrics, ‘watermelon and motherfucker’ will get you through.”

Change is in the air, and his gig switch from Elvis to Georgia McBride is just the tip of the iceberg for Casey, for Jo, and for everyone else at the club.  The journey is going to be full of bumps and grinds (and not just those of queens in the spotlight), and there will be a few bruises along the way.  But a drag queen knows that life is about going out “with our tits up and our dicks tucked” and that everything else will eventually take care of itself.

Adam Magill brings a host of expressions – from 10-year-old wonderment to teenage hurt puppy to twenty-something naiveté – to his role as Casey.  His tall, curly-headed, slim body often seems and acts more like that of a gangly boy than that of a soon-to-be father; and the charm of youth is written all over his very being.  But when he discovers the feminine side of his straight, cis self, his resurrection as Georgia is a wonder and delight to watch.  His confidence to snap and zeal for sass is enough to make his drag mother, Miss Tracy, very proud.

As Miss Tracy Mills, Kraig Swartz has the cocky confidence, the steady swish in six-inch heels, and that certain flip of wigged head to prove this drag queen has been around a block or two (or probably a few hundred).  With a deep voice of gravel that sounds as if it could be that of some forgotten Aunt of one’s childhood, this brash, take-charge queen also has the kind of heart and soul that those who know the drag world, know is there in abundance.

Kraig Swartz & Adam McGill
When Miss Tracy renders before our eyes the metamorphosis of Casey from all-arms-and legs bartender into a beautiful (if still wobbly and shell-shocked) Georgia McBride, the process is both jaw-dropping in its fascination and back-slapping in its hilarity.  Amidst a constant barrage of one-liners, Miss Tracy does her magic while Casey learns that putting on panty hose is not quite the same as hiking up a pair of jeans.

Kraig Swartz, Jason Kapoor & John R. Lewis
John R. Lewis is the club-owner Eddie; his own on-stage mutations as announcer are an ongoing sequence of increasing fun and glamour as his size of audience and revenues skyrocket and his own showmanship blossoms.  The very southern-sounding Jo (Tatiana Wechsler) grows in tummy as she approaches motherhood, but it is her character’s growth in how she views life and its renewed possibilities for herself and her husband that is the real story to watch. 

Jason Kapoor plays the good, ol’ boy that is Casey’s neighbor, Jason -- also Casey’s landlord who gladly offers a beer while threatening eviction.  Mr. Kapoor is also the sometimes venomous, usually drunk drag queen, Rexy, who proves she too has the possibility of some surprising shifts in character that are as spectacular as her lip-singing rendition of Amy Winehouse.

The Marin Theatre Company production team comes close to upstaging the queens themselves with its own flair for the fabulous.  The many sequins, feathers, and colors of satin and sheer that Kara Harmon finds to highlight the gowns of the performers as well as the boots, heels, and wigs she adds for outrageous effects are eye-popping and impressive (as are the drag-a-licious props of Devon LaBelle).  Kurt Landisman’s lighting is often close to show-stopping in its effects, and the sound tracks and sound management of Sean McStravick are any lip-synching queen’s dream.  These ‘empresses in drag’ do more than just stand still, and their snazzy movements in numbers like “It’s Raining Men” and “Express Yourself” have been crafted by choreographer Dell Howlett. 

All has been set in a split-stage by Jason Sherwood between the shabby, crowded dressing room that the queens share (packed with all the parts that eventually come together to spell ‘marvelous’) and the small, modest apartment inhabited by Jo and Casey.  Kent Gash directs the entire show with an air for over-the-top sprinkled generously with outlandish.  He ensures that laughs will be had by all and also provides for moments of soul-searching, truth, and ‘ah-ha’ self-discovery. 

The one directorial downfall is the decision to run the two-hour-plus show with no intermission.  There appears a perfect moment of a surprise-filled discovery where a needed break could be had -- one that would make the rather prolonged drag show at the show’s end a little easier and more enjoyable to behold.

Lots of radical transformations occur during the course of Matthew Lopez’s Legend – physical, career, family, fortune, and more importantly, sense of positive self-image and self-worth.  Attitudes shift as characters expand their universe of how far boundaries can be pushed into new arenas in order to discover one’s true passion.  Stereotypes are challenged.  Assumptions based in exterior appearances and artificial persona are dealt fatal blows.  For all the fake eyelashes flying about, size 13 high heels being tripped over, and falsies being stuffed into glittering gowns, The Legend of Georgia McBride takes time to make important points about the bonding and love that happens behind the scenes among stage performers – even catty, sassy drag queens.

Rating: 4 E

The Legend of Georgia McBride continues in an extended run through July 9, 2017 at Marin Theatre Company, , 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley CA.  Tickets are available online at or by calling the box office Tuesday – Sunday, 12 -5 p.m.

Photos by Kevin Berne

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