Review: AT THE WAKE OF A DEAD DRAG QUEEN at Dobama

Dobama's AT THE WAKE OF A DEAD DRAG QUEEN fulfills theater's mission, but isn't for everyone

By: Jan. 29, 2024
Review: AT THE WAKE OF A DEAD DRAG QUEEN at Dobama

Dobama’s AT THE WAKE OF A DEAD DRAG QUEEN fulfills theater’s mission, but isn’t for everyone!
 
Roy Berko
(Member:  American Theater Critics Association and Cleveland Critics Circle)
 
Dobama bills itself as the area’s Off-Broadway theatre.  It is “dedicated to premiering important new plays by established and emerging playwrights in professional productions of the highest quality. Through theatrical production, community engagement, and education programming, Dobama nurtures the development of theatre artists and builds new audiences for the arts while provoking an examination of our contemporary world.”
 
The theater’s production, AT THE WAKE OF A DEAD DRAG QUEEN, fulfills the venues mission, especially since Dobama has added “Full Circle Program” to its objectives.  That objective “connects audiences with organizations relevant to each production.” 
 
To fully understand how the offering satisfies the objective, it is necessary to know that AT THE WAKE OF A DEAD DRAG QUEEN follows the complicated lives and the relationship of two drag queens. Courtney Berringers (given name: Anthony Knighton) welcomes guests to her wake. She has recently died from complications due to AIDS. In a series of flash backs we are exposed to Courtney’s life and complex relationship with Vickie (Hunter), her fellow drag queen.

The duos relationship is full of love and heartbreak. 

To fully appreciate the script, it is helpful to know, as Terry Guest, the play’s author explains “when he was 15, his uncle…sat me down and said, ‘I am gay and I have AIDS’ literally in the same conversation. I was in the closet, but was queer but was really conflicted by that. I was barely out of the closet to myself.” 
 
His uncle died about a year after that conversation.   He recounts, “That was tough for me. It shoved me further in the closet and further into religion for a couple years, but I still had this interest in exploring his life and honoring him in some way, but I didn’t know how.” 
 
Guest felt that someday he would want to explore those complex feelings of inner turmoil, confusion and fear, which led him to write AT THE WAKE OF A DEAD DRAG QUEEN
 
As part of the Full Circle Program, Dobama has employed well-known Queer local Black drag queen “Onya Nurve as a consultant on the show, to help ensure that the production is rehearsed and performed with cultural competency.  Nurve has been present in rehearsals and is assisting on choreography, make-up, costume, and dramaturgy.” 
 
“Because this play deals heavily with the health disparities facing BIPOC LGBTQ+ people living with HIV, Dobama is partnering with the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland to provide free HIV testing, resources and information to audiences. There will be pre- and post-show discussions throughout the run with representatives from the AIDS Task Force, area Drag performers, and Dobama Artists involved with the production. Also being planned in collaboration with area organizations is a Drag Story Hour and a Drag Cabaret Show. Visit dobama.org/drag-queen for details about these events as they become available.”
 
The Dobama production is directed by Preston Crowder, an Oberlin grad, who is a playwright-actor-director-songwriter with a passion for telling stories surrounding the vast experiences of being Black and Queer in the United States.
 
The two-person show stars Jason Eno (Courtney/Anthony) and Dan Hendrock (Vickie/Hunter). 

The roles require vulnerability and strength in addition to a keen awareness of the scars that each carry, probing the inner depths of each to truly tap into the emotions that should be every-present.
 
Though they give full effort in the ever-present costume/wig/emotion-changing roles, neither actor totally grabs and holds their character, as a person or as a drag performer.  
 
There is a “stagey” quality to their performances that doesn’t quite allow us to believe they are real people or are emotionally hooked on each other.  Neither their kissing or sex scenes are totally believable. And, in spite of their tutoring by Onya Nurve, neither reaches the RuPaul level of “fabulousness” when performing in drag.
 
Suwatana Rockland’s costumes are grand, as appropriately grand as they should be for a backwoods Georgia drag show.  
 
The creative team for the production includes Scenic Design by Ben Needham, Lighting Design by Ben Gantose, Sound Design by Megan “Deets” Culley, Props Design by Vanessa Cook, Intimacy Direction by Casey Venema & Colin Anderson, Assistant Direction by Ananias J. Dixon, and Technical Direction by Jeremy Paul
 
Capsule judgment:  The show, which gets an acceptable performance, isn't for everyone. However, it should make audience members think and expose the average person to people and a way-of-life beyond their norm experience. It’s worth a go-see!

For tickets to AT THE WAKE OF A DEAD DRAG QUEEN, which runs through February 18, 2024, call 216.932.3396 or go to https://www.dobama.org/

Next up:  March 8-30—SOMETHING CLEAN—The line between love and complicity isn’t clean as is revealed in one woman’s struggle to make sense of her own grief, love, and culpability.Enter Your Article Text Here!




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