Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Terry Guest is a Chicago-based actor and writer. He played the central character in this play in the multiple early Chicago performances. Urbanite's press releases state that this is the first time another actor is playing the part.
This is ninety minutes of scintillating writing, with two characters, both interestingly drawn, both drag queens, but different enough from each other to create and sustain conflict. We have Courtney/Anthony, Black and more experienced, and Vickie/Hunter, white from a poor Southern family. The play closely examines the world of drag, being gay in the South, the impact of race on these two men, and various other issues. Then AIDS, probably circa late 1980s / early 1990s becomes the central issue. There are varied solo scenes, not just because of which character is playing, but because the shifting emotions demand it. Duet scenes are equally changing, and this is the magnificence of the writing, no cliches here.
The production, directed by Damian Lockhart, is wildly theatricalhow could it not be when it revolves around a world of drag queens? Mr. Lockhart's bio states that he is Atlanta based and lists a previous production of this play at Out Front Theatre in Chicago, but not one of the earliest productions. He gets fabulous performances from both his actors. Donovan Sessions as Courtney/Anthony makes me wonder if anyone could have been better, author or not. He covers all the emotional bases, his death scene is moving, and his imagined death is eerie. This may be one of the top performances of the season. Shea Peterson plays opposite him as Vickie/Hunter. Part of the inspiration of the play is that this role, while slightly less showy, is just as strongly written. The actor has a reasonable chance of holding the stage fully and Mr. Peterson does. His bio lists a previous production of this play in Chicago. He brings that experience to a very strong performance, with all the right emotions for a poor Southern gay boy.
The first thing a production of At the Wake of a Dead Drag Queen requires, after two fabulous performances, is fabulous costumes, and David Covach was absolutely up to the job, since his full-time job is head of the costume department at Asolo Repertory Theatre. His creations are perfect replications of the tacky sensationalism seen in the drag world. These boys don't have big bank accounts to support truly glamorous creations, so illusions of same will have to do. The costumes alone would be worth a visit to Urbanite, but they are completely in service to this terrific play. Scenic design by Jeff Webber captures the club and all the other locations in the plot. Lighting design by Ethan Vail and sound design by Rew Tipton are both very strong and the play makes demands on both. I was seated so that I could not fully see or appreciate the projection design by Alex Pinchin. Prop design by Amanda LaForge and wig design by Susan Haldeman are additional strong elements of a production with demanding technical elements. It is amazing that Urbanite can mount such a challenging show, but their track record contains more unforgettable productions than any other company I cover.
The good news is that At the Wake of a Dead Drag Queen is on for several more weeks, so don't miss this production, which is going to be on every theatergoer's lips for much of this season.
At the Wake of a Dead Drag Queen runs through December 5, 2021, at Urbanite Theatre, 1487 2nd St., Sarasota FL. Visit www.urbanitetheatre.com for tickets and information.