Head over heels

  • by Richard Dodds
  • Tuesday June 27, 2017
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It's not surprising when Casey loses his gig as an Elvis impersonator at a bar along the Florida Panhandle. What's surprising is that he was ever hired at all. At least that's the impression after Adam Magill performs a few moments of "Jailhouse Rock" at the start of "The Legend of Georgia McBride." It's not likely that playwright Matthew Lopez intended this character to be quite such an unconvincing Elvis, but the good news is that's all we ever see of Magill's Elvis. As a straight, married, ever-optimistic father-to-be, Magill turns out to be much more persuasive as Tammy Wynette, Patsy Cline, and even, after a clumsy start, some French lady he's never heard of named Edith Piaf.

The antediluvian man-in-a-dress device gets a happy reprieve in Lopez's play, now at the Marin Theatre Company, with the comedy enhanced by the sensitivity of a mentor-mentee relationship that develops between a veteran drag queen and the conflicted Casey, who hides his new gig from Jo, his pragmatic wife played with spasms of warmth by Tatiana Wechsler. The play shuttles between humdrum scenes of Casey's home life and scenes at the bar, where Casey blossoms as a star attraction under the drag name Georgia McBride. That's where the production blossoms as well, and energy wanes whenever the play returns to life at home with Casey and Jo.

Lopez's play is not without its lumps, and Kent Gash's direction doesn't always smooth over those obstacles. But if this isn't a particularly slick production, it delivers when it needs to. Working with choreographer Dell Howlett, Gash cranks up the energy in several cavalcades of lip-synced drag turns that involve quick changes and bravura performances. There's Judy and Barbra and Tammy and Patsy and Madonna and Lady Gaga, and in an inspired moment, Magill starts out with Dolly quietly singing "I Will Always Love You" before transforming into Whitney for the pull-out-the-stops version. I do wish something fresher than the Weather Girls' "It's Raining Men" was used for the big production number.

Casey has been pressed into drag service when half of the drag act hired to replace his Elvis show falls victim to a roller-skating DUI accident. But Miss Tracy Mills, the leader of the drag act, has a show to put on, and Casey hardly has time to register his hetero shock as he is being thrust into wig, stockings, dress, and makeup before being pushed on stage. In a kind of time-lapse sequence, we see how Magill's Casey moves from deer-in-headlights stage fright to an increasingly confident purveyor of Edith Piaf angst before creating his own confident country-western persona with costumes created from his spangled Elvis jumpsuit.

The costumes designed by Kara Harmon are something of a starring character in their own right, and they are offered up in careful coordination with Jason Sherwood's shape-shifting set, Kurt Landisman's lighting, and Chris Houston's sound design.

But finally it is Kraig Swartz, as Miss Tracy Mills, who gives the play a heart. He delivers the top-drawer drag entertainment (his Streisand in her see-through Oscar-night pantsuit emoting to "Don't Rain on My Parade" is choice stuff), and he also delivers on the hard-won gravitas that centers the play amid the backstage wisecracks.

Jason Kapoor definitely displays versatility as both Tracy's flakey, hard-drinking, and ultimately injured stage partner, and as Casey and Jo's brewski-straight friend and landlord. It's not Kapoor's fault that his drag character must deliver a heavy-handed sermonette on homophobia. John R. Lewis completes the cast as the bar owner in beach-bum togs whose outfits increase in luxury as business somewhat improbably booms among all the fans of drag in Panama City.


"The Legend of Georgia McBride" will run through July 9 at Marin Theatre Company. Tickets are $25-$60. Call (415) 388-5208 or go to marintheatre.org.