BWW Review: THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA MCBRIDE at Nebraska Repertory Theatre is More Than What You See
Nebraska Repertory Theatre opened Matthew Lopez' THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA MCBRIDE in one of the coolest sets I've seen. Using the entire black box theatre, one side is turned into a porch and a kitchen/living room. Directly opposite is Cleo's, a rustic flag-draped bar with stage and backstage dressing room. Risers with chairs accommodate the audience along the remaining two sides of the theatre and in the middle are scattered round tables and chairs where you can sit and watch the shows within the show sipping your cocktail or beverage. Actors move effortlessly from one set to the other by passing among the tables. The set, designed by Marty Wolff, isn't the only cool thing about this production. The acting is top drawer, which makes this play better than I expected it to be.
The story unfolds as Casey (Colin Sphar), a failing Elvis impersonator at Eddie's (Brandon Galatz) bar "Cleo's" still cannot pull in more than a handful of patrons. Money is tight. He's bounced two rent checks and now his wife, Jo (Elaine Stueve), is pregnant. Eddie needs to do something to keep his bar afloat. Casey needs to keep a paycheck coming in. Enter Eddie's cousin Miss Tracy Mills (Ty Perry) with fellow drag queen "Rexy" (Clayton Edward)...short for "Anorexia Nervosa." They are Eddie's new act and Casey is out. When Rexy passes out drunk, Tracy convinces Casey to fill in. Therein begins this straight man's journey into the world of women's body padding, heavy-handed makeup, and lip-synch. But he cannot let Jo know.
Ty Perry is phenomenal. His handling of his character is so believable that I want the audacious drag queen to be my friend. He imbues her with a razor sharp wit and snappy comebacks, but also shows a sensitivity that you would desire in your best friend. She cares. She cares enough to coach young Casey in the finer aspects of their artistic form, but also as a person, telling him to "make fewer messes" while figuring out who he is as a person. Perry is so good at being Miss Tracy that when he appears later without his wig, it takes me a minute to adjust. His portrayal of his everyday self is diametrically different, but he retains compassion along with wisdom.
Colin Sphar is also impressive as the corny, sweet, callow Casey. It is fascinating watching him develop throughout the story from a small town Panama City Beach Elvis impersonator to a flashy drag queen capable of drawing in full houses. Not only do his dress and his drag skills improve, his confidence soars as he realizes that he can be successful performing. He grows from "I can't do this," to "I want to do this." But along with his new persona as Georgia McBride, he threatens his marriage by lying to his wife.
Matthew Lopez has been quoted as saying, "Drag as it is practiced in these small Southern gay bars enables a sense of transgression, a sense of rebellion, a sense of resistance." Sphar brings out these senses in his complicated interactions with his wife and his fellow drag queens.
Clayton Edward has the fun dual roles of Rexy, the alcoholic drag queen with a butt hurt attitude and Casey's landlord Jason. He is over-the-top as Rexy, but as Jason, he works another comedic path equally as well. Some of the funniest parts involve Edward in either role.
Brandon Galatz as Eddie, is the stereotypical down home bar owner who is a bit rough around the edges. Galatz does a great job transitioning from a guy who is failing to a guy who is buying a new car. His mounting success shows in his increasingly finer dress (to the point where it is glittery and totally show biz) and in his relationships with his employees.
Finally, Elaine Stueve has the burden of being the "straight man" in this comedy. Jo's character is written in my opinion as rather flatlined without a lot of growth. She tells her husband that he "is a woman" when she sees him on stage, but I'm not convinced that Lopez himself knows women through his narrow depiction of Jo. Stueve carries it out ably, however, remaining steady in stress and standing by her man no matter what. It isn't until the finale that Stueve is able to let loose and dance with abandon, showing that there is even more to her than was allowed in the script.
Director Steve Scott has produced an enjoyable show with many fine aspects working together tightly. Quick changes to Rebecca Armstrong's splendid costumes are managed without wardrobe malfunctions. Lighting (Bryce Bassett) and Sound (Jeff O'Brien) are effective. The traveling back and forth of the actors between sets works great. It is a show built of pieces that form a nice whole.
As far as the script itself, it isn't my favorite. But I found lots to like about the play. The whole concept of drag caused me to research its history which has more longevity than I'd thought. Tracing back to early times when women were prohibited from being on stage and men performed their roles, it continued to develop into an art form involving lip-synching. I didn't understand why anyone would want to spend their money watching someone pretend to sing. But as I saw in GEORGIA MCBRIDE, it's more complicated than that. It requires acting down to the least little inflection, movement, attitude. Perry has it down flat with his quivering lips singing "Stormy Weather " and Sphar is hilarious when he first performs a French ballad in drag.
But more than lip-synching, drag is about finding your persona. As Miss Tracy helps Casey try and reject several personalities, he finally stumbles on one of his own that most clearly defines himself. As he explains to Jo, he likes Georgia McBride because she has fewer messes. She represents a better version of himself. And in his case, "What you get is what you see" couldn't be further from the truth. There is more to drag than meets the eye.
Photo Credit: Justin Mohling