Glamour Meets Treachery

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Sunday August 13, 2017
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"D'Arcy is a prolific genius," proclaimed drag artist Matthew Martin as he prepared for his role in "Bitch Slap," D'Arcy Drollinger's mad send-up of 1980s soap operas.

The show opens Aug. 10 at the Oasis, and runs through Sept. 9. Throughout the 1980s, "Dynasty" and "All My Children" ruled the airwaves with their over-the-top characters, gowns, jewels and hair. Faded movie actress Joan Collins became a superstar when she was cast as the much-married "Dynasty" diva Alexis Carrington Colby, who slept and backstabbed her way to the top with every hair in place. Gay audiences loved her cat-fights with archrival Crystal (Linda Evans). Many gay men tuned in not only to catch up on the plot twists, but also to see what the ladies were wearing.

"I've done a series of shows that focus on a heroine named Champagne White, that send up the low-budget exploitation films of the 70s," Drollinger explained to the B.A.R. "In wanting to explore another genre, I set my sights on melodrama - specifically the romance novel and soap opera, two genres that are so over-the-top and camp, but a mainstay in our culture."

The writer-director feels these shows were tailor-made for gay viewers. "It's as if they were made for drag," he said. "My original shows are ridiculous and outlandish, but when compared to many of these programs, they almost pale in comparison. My favorite part in doing these comedies is the research. I have watched hours of 'Dynasty,' 'Dallas,' 'Falcon Crest,' and many daytime soaps. I've read the novels, from your standard romance fare to Jackie Collins."

When casting, Drollinger turned to two of his favorite mainstays. In addition to Matthew Martin, who stands in for Joan Collins/Susan Lucci, popular drag king Leigh Crow essays the male lead. Crow became a Bay Area legend for her performances as Elvis impersonator Elvis Herselvis. More recently she's been seen as Captain James T. Kirk in the Oasis productions of "Star Trek Live."

"My character is Roman Midnight, married to and cheating on Diana Midnight," Crow said. "A rich, middle-aged, white tycoon. Not too glam, because I play a man!" Crow added she's ready to dive into the show's mad storyline. "Satire is my favorite because you can exaggerate all of your character's attributes. Gay appeal? Shoulderpads!"

Martin, for his part, acknowledges "Bitch Slap"'s debt to "Dynasty," but admits to being partial to Susan Lucci, the first daytime TV star to become a household name. "Of course my character is very glamorous in the vein of 'Dynasty,'" he said. "But I would draw more of a parallel between my character and Susan Lucci as Erica Kane of 'All My Children' fame. Her character was on the soap from its inception, and she played it as the star, blurring the line between character and actress. My character has been on 'the longest-running soap opera' 'Forever or Just For Now,' and is the most famous pantyhose model."

"Soap operas have been replaced with reality TV," said Drollinger. "Both are a way to look into other people's lives that have more drama, more excitement, more love, more tragedy than our own." Drollinger also reminds us that "Dynasty" was a groundbreaking show in the annals of gay visibility. "In terms of the gay audience, besides the camp aspect, a show like 'Dynasty' had the amazing Nolan Miller costumes, and it had a gay character on TV in 1981, which was pretty huge. It had some of the most catty lines on TV, was famous for catfights between women, and was the first TV show to use the word bitch."

"I believe they were glamorous, dramatic and full of gossip, backstabbing and treachery, all mainstays of any respectable gay," added Martin.

Even though the heyday for these shows is long since passed, Drollinger is confident that he and his crew will pull in a crowd. "As much as the genre may be dying, people have such strong feelings about it," he said. "The preshow response has been great. I just hope I do them proud."

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