|Visage “Legs” LaRue as Hell's Kitchen Kate in The Drag (Shay Sooter)|
The Drag – A Homosexual Comedy in Three Acts
Play Your Part
(At Gay City)
Through June 29, 2019
Michael Raimondi came to town a couple of years ago and actualized a dream to start a new theater company. Play Your Part produced some evenings of short pieces and then he began looking for a full length piece to present around Pride Month.
Michael says, “I was looking for (previously) censored LGBT plays that haven’t been commonly done and a board member had heard about Mae West’s play, The Drag, from college. I was a huge fan of Mae West as a boy and knew exactly who she was and how her style of acting was done in the ‘30s. We found the play and decided do it.”
Actually, The Drag – A Homosexual Comedy in Three Acts is part of a Mae West trilogy in a book called Three Plays by Mae West. Michael and company’s research cannot find any other full production ever done of The Drag besides the ten days (only!) it was performed in New Jersey in 1927! It was raided by police and shut down for “indecency”!
In fact, the anthology isn’t even very clear about all of the actual dialogue, since he thinks that the way it was recorded was that someone in the audience wrote down the dialogue as it was being performed!
Michael says, “There’s a 20 minute drag play in the middle. That drag ‘ball’ in the middle is not fully scripted, but the way we created it gives a nod to contemporary drag culture and icons. But 98% of the play is actual text written by Mae West.”
Michael describes that he made other kinds of decisions to augment how this production is done. He inserted a dramatization of a police raid and has a talented pianist, Elisa Money, play original underscoring and become a character in the play, as well.
He describes moments in the script where the actors were clearly improvising, as well. The script might say, “the Duchess enters.” Or “these people meet each other and have a conversation.”
Michael says, “In the forward to the anthology, the compiler Lillian Schlissel, said that Mae West wanted to represent the gay culture and the gay men she was friends with at the time, so it was a kind of love letter to them, and her wanting to portray them in a way that was not demonizing, but celebratory.
“This play represents how the wealthy closeted gays would appropriate what would exist in poor communities of color. The only other place you could find anyone in drag was in vaudeville. If vaudevillians left the stage and didn’t immediately ‘butch up’ there was a problem.”
There are some great vintage clips of movies in this production, including the first movie to win an Oscar (in 1929), a silent film called Wings, that includes a same-sex kiss! Aside from the vintage clips, Michael and company made a compilation for the end that is a moving tribute to gay history. He says, “We wanted to show that we’ve come a long way but we have much further to go.”
The story told is about a doctor who treats “sexual inverts,” the term that people used psychologically for homosexuals at the time. It’s not exactly clear how the doctor administers treatment, whether it’s an early form of Gay Aversion treatment, but a “troubled” man is referred to the doctor and tells of being obsessed with a young married man who used to love him and then decided he loved another man. And this troubled man cannot get over him.
In a complicated series of revelations, it turns out that the married man is the son-in-law of the doctor himself, married to his only daughter. In that day and age, this kind of revelation would cause immense social upheaval if anyone found out.
But in the meantime, the married son parties on, discreetly, though without much regret, it appears, and arranges the Act Two Drag Ball in his home.
There are 19 cast members in this complicated but often amusing play. The style is highly amped and very much like 1920s movies, so it’s not to be looked at as “realistic” at all. A number of people double other characters, to make it even more confusing, so you need to pay close attention. Also, it’s clear that every gender portrayed on stage is not at all necessarily the gender of the actor in real life!
There is a range of experienced to less experienced actors, but some of my favorites include Gavin Michaels as the married man, Alexei Cifrese as the married man’s father, Blake Simpson as the wife and daughter, and Maddy Noonan as Marian. Ruby Bouche and Visage “Legs” LaRue alternate being the Drag Queen of the Ball for different performances.
According to Michael, Mae West wanted there to be “spectacle” and “surprise” that the audience isn’t expecting, so she built in different moments. Part of that spectacle was the Drag Ball. She also included some “bait and switch” plot points that you’ll have fun guessing at later.
For more information, go to www.playyourpartseattle.org.