'The Legend of Georgia McBride' — Matthew López' drag makeover comedy at Center Rep

  • by Christopher J. Beale
  • Tuesday November 7, 2023
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J.A. Valentine, Joe Ayers and Jed Parsario in Center Repertory Company's 'The Legend of Georgia McBride.' (photo: Kevin Berne)<br>
J.A. Valentine, Joe Ayers and Jed Parsario in Center Repertory Company's 'The Legend of Georgia McBride.' (photo: Kevin Berne)

Center Repertory Company is staging "The Legend of Georgia McBride" at Lesher Center for the Performing Arts in Walnut Creek. Bay Area actor and director Elizabeth Carter told the Bay Area Reporter that she felt that her next production needed to be a direct form of protest against the latest anti-LGBTQ legislation sweeping the nation.

"I was like, drag bans in Florida? What the hell is going on!?" said Carter. Then she remembered a 2017 play by Tony and Olivier Award winner Matthew López called "The Legend of Georgia McBride." The show is about drag, and takes place in the epicenter of LGBTQ hate in the United States: Florida. The plot fit the cultural moment, and Carter teamed up with Center Rep to stage it.

Casey (Joe Ayers) is an Elvis impersonator at a bar in a rural Florida town. He's young, handsome, talented, straight and about to be a father. Things are looking good until he suddenly loses his job to a new kind of production, a drag show. When faced with financial ruin or trying drag, Casey climbs into high heels and transforms into a fabulous, fierce drag queen.

His transformation from quaffed Elvis impersonator to drag performer is guided by the production's on- and off-stage drag mother, Miss Tracy Mills, played by seasoned drag performer J.A. Valentine.

(clockwise upper left) Director Elizabeth Carter with actors J.A. Valentine, Jed Parsario, Joe Ayers, and Sundiata Ayinde in rehearsals for Center Repertory Company's 'The Legend of Georgia McBride.' (photo: MacKenzie Crane)  

"One of the things that I love about Mills is that she is written for a drag performer over 40 with some experience and mileage," said Valentine, who has a lengthy drag career spanning decades in the San Francisco Bay Area. Valentine has been helping the cast through the rigorous rehearsal and staging process with wit and wisdom, guiding the drag presentation to appear as accurate as possible while keeping the cast engaged. This, said Valentine, was the idea behind his casting.

"My director felt very strongly that they wanted not just an actor, but a career drag performer to play this part, and I'm both of those things," said Valentine matter of factly. "I'm really pleased that authenticity is a priority on this production." Authenticity isn't just the priority, it's the point.

"I'm a queer parent, with a 12-year-old," beamed Carter. "My wife and I have been together for 17 years. We are a little lesbian family in the East Bay. Stereotypical, I know."

Carter and her wife have raised their children within the Bay Area's LGBTQ community, including drag events like Easter in Dolores Park with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Drag is important to Carter and her family, and this show is her way of pushing back against the tyrannical actions of Florida's government.

"'The Legend of Georgia McBride' is my raised fist with a sequined glove," said Carter, but she reminded me that this is first and foremost a comedy, but a comedy with heart and a theme of chosen family. Who will love you when you make a big change to something at the very core of who you are?

"Everyone's searching for that home," added Carter. "That's the beautiful thing about the play. It doesn't end in tragedy."

What does Casey's family look like at the end of the story? To find out what happens, you'll have to head to Center Rep in Walnut Creek. From San Francisco, it's a BART ride and a ten-minute walk.

"The Legend of Georgia McBride" Nov. 7-26 at Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek. $45-$70. (925) 943-7469 www.lesherartscenter.org

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