Shakespeare Theatre Company Stages Free Reading of Gay Icon Mae West's Banned Drama THE DRAG
Celebrating Pride Month, Shakespeare Theatre Company will close out its 2018-2019 ReDiscovery Series on Monday, June 17 at 7:30 p.m. at Lansburgh Theatre with a freestaged reading of Mae West's closet melodrama The Drag (1927). When handsome brutes, sentimental molls, a neglected wife, a determined rival, and a rejected lover converge at the home of one conflicted Rolly Kingsbury, there is sure to be trouble. The Drag is a sensational artifact of 1920s excesses, complete with a raucous drag ball featuring West herself as a guest. It is also an important relic of American LGBTQIA history, demonstrating both the coldly clinical, psychoanalytic theories of same-sex love and the constant policing, brutalizing, and suppression of openly LGBTQ+ people in the early 20th century by the law.
Best known for her eyebrow-raising double entendres, Mae West (1893-1980) was an actress, sex symbol, and writer known for flirty and dirty wordplay. Defying convention with her sex-positive comedic stylings, she was an incredibly successful star of the silver screen in movies such as I'm No Angel, Klondike Annie and Every Day's a Holiday. The Drag was written in collaboration with West's cast of gay male actors and expresses West's progressive queer politics. After previews in Connecticut and New Jersey, The Drag was Broadway-bound but was banned by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. West and her cast were arrested on charges of obscenity for her Broadway production of Sex, a sentimental drama about a self-sacrificial sex worker. The gay community in 1920s New York was quite visible and integrated with thriving drag and ball scenes, but Broadway remained leery about police enforcement, denying openly gay actors principal parts. Because of The Drag and The Captive (a slightly earlier lesbian drama by Edouard Bourdet that appeared on Broadway), New York State passed a law prohibiting the representation or discussion of homosexuality on the stage. West's work challenges the silencing of gay voices on the stage in her decidedly audacious, flamboyant style-complete with rhinestones, sequins and lots of sass.
Coming to light recently with last year's publication of Three Plays (Sex/The Drag/The Pleasure Man) by West, the National Theatre of London staged a reading of the play on July 10, 2017. Shakespeare Theatre Company is excited to share this rediscovered gem of LGBTQ+ drama.
After the reading, guests are invited to stay for a talkback with Washington, D.C. activists, performers and scholars.
In addition to the staged reading of The Drag, Shakespeare Theatre Company will be returning to this year's Pride Festival & Concert on Sunday, June 9 at Pennsylvania Ave. and 3rd St NW. Stop by the STC booth for Shakespeare-inspired Pride merchandise and opportunities to win reserved tickets for the summer's Free For All production of Hamlet starring Michael Urie.
Reservations open for Subscribers and Donors Tuesday, May 14. For general public, reservations begin Tuesday, May 21. http://www.shakespearetheatre.org/support/special-events/rediscovery-readings/
The ReDiscovery Series introduces audiences to new adaptations and great but lesser-known classic plays under consideration for STC's mainstage seasons. Written by notable playwrights and performed by some of D.C.'s most talented actors, these one-night-only readings are often the first step in bringing a new adaptation or an under-produced classic back into the spotlight worldwide. Every ReDiscovery reading concludes with a post-show panel featuring artists, scholars and esteemed community members. Now in its 26th season, the ReDiscovery Series is more committed than ever to introducing our audience to new voices through classic works.
Since the 1993-1994 Season, the Shakespeare Theatre Company has staged more 70 plays as part of its ReDiscovery Series. The Series has investigated many rarely produced classics that resulted in mainstage productions including Schiller's Don Carlos (2000-2001 Season), A Woman of No Importance by Oscar Wilde (1998-1999 Season), The Silent Woman by Ben Jonson (2002-2003 Season) and a new translation and adaptation of George Farquhar's The Beaux' Stratagem by Thornton Wilder and Ken Ludwig (2006-2007 Season). The series also included the sold-out world premiere of Tennessee Williams' rediscovered one-act plays, Five by Tenn, at the Kennedy Center in 2001, a production later remounted in New York at the Manhattan Theatre Club.
Works for the ReDiscovery Series are chosen by Artistic Director Michael Kahn and presented under the direction of Shakespeare Theatre Company's artistic staff. Guest scholars, translators and adapters involved with the evening's reading also frequently participate in rehearsal, performance and post-performance discussions.