BWW Review: THE DRAG by Mae West Presented by The City Of West Hollywood and Classical Theatre Lab
takes a fascinating look at gay culture and attitudes in the Roaring ‘20s
Mae West's 1927 three-act comedy THE DRAG is a rarely performed LGBTQ classic, one that takes a fascinating look at gay culture and attitudes in the Roaring '20s.
West was an outspoken feminist and social progressive who believed
everyone had the right to be exactly how they wanted to be, with all of her act's gay chorus boys showing her the ways in which their fear of retribution kept them living in the closet. West's play, in which she turned her anger at injustice into witty repartee, tells of a married but closeted high society man who throws a wild drag ball that proves to be a fateful event in more ways than one, given the various degrees of scandal going on around so many of the characters. Written under a pseudonym before she became a blockbuster Hollywood star, THE DRAG scandalized New York audiences in 1927 with its portrayal of homosexuality, transgender characters, and drag queens. The premiere production closed out of town by the authorities after two weeks of sold-out performances to appreciative audiences.
THE DRAG is full of Mae West's famous double entendre one-liners, including "You never really know a man until you marry him," "give your mouth a holiday," and the laugh-inducing "your face is familiar but I don't know where to put it" which shocked the more refined members of society who thought her "crude" language had no place in legitimate theater and belonged only in the realm of Vaudeville and burlesque shows. Aside from the subject matter, a few of the other problems in successfully staging the play include its elaborate and frequently changing set locations plus the need for lavish period costumes and drag ensembles, not to mention the right actors to portray the characters in a believable way while maintaining the play's camp appeal. Consequently, THE DRAG has rarely been staged, even with Mae West's bawdy humor so popular with her fans. But now thanks to The City of West Hollywood and Classical Theatre Lab, under the talented direction of Alex Wells, two live-streamed costumed readings of THE DRAG took place on Sat. Sept. 26 at 6 p.m. and Sun. Sept. 27 at 2 p.m., which will continue to be streamed through November 30 on You Tube at https://youtu.be/DL1KO1UlR_Q, offered to the public free of charge with donations accepted. The Classical Theatre Lab reading features (in alphabetical order) Joel Asher, Beau Berglund, Mark Crowell, Nicholas Hargous, Stuart W. Howard, Suzanne Hunt, Paris Perrault, Max Pescherine, Sara Shearer, David Shofner, Lonni Silver, Anthony Topsfield and special guest artists Kelly Mantle, Roger Q. Mason, and T. Ashanti Mozelle taking on the pivotal drag queen roles to perfection, each with their own and totally unique flamboyant flair. A singer/songwriter, comedian and actor, Mantle guest starred on "RuPaul's Drag Race" among their numerous TV credits. An accomplished writer/performer, Mason penned and starred in "Lavender Men" at Skylight Theatre in L.A. and Circle in the Square in New York. Mozelle can be seen in the 2019 feature film "Trade" based on true story of a Los Angeles transgender prostitute. "The Lab is thrilled to welcome these gifted guest artists who are helping to bring this historic play to life for today's audiences," said Classical Theatre Lab producer Suzanne Hunt. "These times challenge all artistic organizations and especially theatres, to celebrate our nation's diversity." I was thoroughly entertained by the reading, and send kudos to the actors for their ability to portray their characters so well together from their own separate locations, with Mr. Moselle joining in from a film shoot in Mexico! Many in the cast confirmed they have worked together before onstage, and their camaraderie and joy of taking on characters together added to the campy fun of the story about Rolly who is married to Clair while both of them desire to be with other people - perhaps even the same man! And kudos to producer Suzanne Hunt who worked via email with the cast on lighting and costumes, which the actors pulled from their own theatrical wardrobes in their closets, so to speak. And director Alex Wells thanked his wife Susan for finding two matching phones from the 20s which were delivered to the homes of both actors for scenes in which the prop was needed. It is this type of successful teamwork that keeps actors, directors, designers and audiences coming back for more in the world of live theater! Founded in 1990, the Classical Theatre Lab is a 501 (c) (3) organization devoted to exploring classical theatre, literature and performance. It is committed to sharing these works with the public throughout the year. Our goal is to promote a love of classical theatre by providing unique and distinctive audience experiences through a culture of diversity, equality and inclusion. For more information, please visit www.classicaltheatrelab.org or www.facebook.com/classicaltheatrelab Photo credits: Guest artists photo: (L-R) Nicholas Hargous, Kelly Mantle, Max Pescherine, Roger Q. Mason, T. A. Mozelle - part of the stellar cast in a scene from Mae West's THE DRAG (photo credit Classical Theatre Lab/WeHo Arts)