Review: “The Legend of Georgia McBride” at Greater Boston Stage Company

Ashley DiFranza

  • Boston Theatre Critic

Contemporary comedies are commonplace in theater, but very rarely does a production surface that manages to produce the sought-after balance of humor and heart needed to make an impact that lasts longer than a well earned laugh.

Greater Boston Stage Company’s “The Legend of Georgia McBride,” directed and choreographed by Russell Garrett, is one of these productions. The play, written by Matthew Lopez, tells the story of a young, passionate Elvis impersonator named Casey, who finds himself with a newly pregnant wife, a stack of bills, and his dreams of performing as Elvis crushed when the owner of the venue cancels his act in lieu of a drag show. Headlined by the drag queen Miss. Tracy Mills, this show hits an unexpected snag when Tracy’s costar, Anorexia Nervosa (or Rexy, for short), can’t go on one night. Seizing the opportunity to get back onstage, Casey ditches his Elvis suit for a dress, and creates his soon-to-be infamous drag persona, Georgia McBride. As Casey continues to perform as Georgia, his life begins to shape in ways he never expected, and he is given the rare opportunity to take a look at the man he is and the man he wants to be, all from a pair of platform heels.

Where many directors may approach a show that is centered on drag queens with comedy at the forefront of their vision, the depth that accompanies the humor in Garrett’s production feels more than natural. In fact, it is through these high points of hilarity that the audience is able to develop the strong connections to the characters needed in order for the more serious moments to land.

The character of Miss. Tracy, performed expertly by Rick Park, for example, spends a majority of the production dressed as iconic female celebrities, from Marilyn Monroe to Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. This fact alone, alongside Park’s natural use of femininity and sass in his portrayal of the character, makes it easy for the audience to expect this role to be one of just comedy. Yet when the time in the play comes for Miss. Tracy to truly mentor Casey, not as a drag queen but as a human being, those layers of comedy are easily stripped away in lieu of something far more serious.

Similarly, actor Alex Pollock’s portrayal of Rexy is one which unexpectedly pushes past the glitter hats and black lipstick the character wears, to something really important. Despite acting like a diva throughout most of the play, when Rexy confronts Casey as he is deciding if continuing to perform as Georgia McBride is the right choice, “she” delivers a powerful yet touching speech about the world of drag. The character states, “Drag ain’t a hobby, baby. Drag ain’t a night job. Drag is a protest. Drag is a raised fist inside a sequined glove.” This message in itself is incredibly important, and as Rexy’s speech explores the depth of struggle that members of this community have faced, audiences are actually able to take a step back and realize that what they too have been viewing as entertainment all night is actually something much more complex to those performing it. Pollock’s talent is evident from the moment audiences realize the actor is doubling between the role of Rexy and the role of Jason, (Casey landlord), and yet it is in this moment of honesty and strength that the actor’s presence is felt most strongly.

If powerful moments like these are the well earned dessert of this delicious production, the moments of comedy are the main course.

 Photo: Nile Scott Shots

Photo: Nile Scott Shots

The piece truly comes to life the first time Casey (Jared Reinfeldt) transforms into Georgia McBride, which he does in a hysterical sequence that is easily one of the most memorable of the show. As Park’s Miss. Tracy flits around the room delivering sassy lines so naturally you might wonder if they were improvised, “she” gives Casey a crash course in drag, altering his physical shape—through the use of a waist-cincher and butt pads—and teaching him about how best to act like a woman.

While this is a funny premise in itself, what cements the humor in this scene is Reinfeldt, who captures the reality of a young straight man learning how to dress and act like a woman with sincerity and realism. Layering in both panic and awe as the character encounters things like pantyhose, stilettos, and false eyelashes for the first time, Reinfeldt wins over audiences from his first unsteady steps in his heels. What’s more, through the expressiveness in his eyes, Reinfeldt is able to continue portraying Casey even while playing Georgia McBride, an impressive accomplishment in character control. This control over his character becomes even more impressive as Georgia begins to blossom, and starts dancing and lip synching as part of “her” act in the drag show. Even as Reinfeldt saunters around the stage in an outstanding portrayal of a woman, audiences are still able to see the tendencies that are Casey’s behind the dress and wig.

Dedication like this helps make Reinfeldt’s performance a standout one, not just in this production, but among the many other drag queen-based shows popping up in Boston theater seasons this spring. In a 100 minute, no intermission marathon of a piece in which he is rarely off stage, Reinfeldt still manages to deliver a dynamic and energetic performance. And between the dance numbers, the costume changes, and the emotional brunt of the character’s journey to self discovery, his ability to tackle each component with precision and charm is all the more impressive.

Alongside Reinfeldt’s Casey, Park’s Miss. Tracy, and Pollock’s Rexy/Jason, this cast includes Ed Peed as Eddie, the blunt but big hearted owner of the bar where Georgia and Miss. Tracy perform, and Jade Guerra as Jo, Casey’s down-to-earth wife. Both Peed and Guerra do a fantastic job of carving out a place for themselves amongst the louder elements of this play, and are rewarded with memorable moments of their own. Peed, for example, expertly portrays Eddie’s transformation from an struggling bar owner who can’t even announce an act without stuttering, to a suave business man enjoying the ride of cash and customers the drag show has brought in. Meanwhile, Guerra’s natural performance of the practical, responsible one in her marriage helps not only ground the story being told, but provide real stakes for Casey as his choices reach a climax.

This production of “The Legend of Georgia McBride” at Greater Boston Stage Company is the type of show that has audiences showing up for the music and the drag, and staying for the heart behind the story. It is a play about acceptance and learning to embrace who you are, even if it’s not who you expected to be, and it is one that should truly not be missed this season.

 

“The Legend of Georgia McBride” runs through Mary 20th at Greater Boston Stage Company. For tickets visit www.greaterbostonstage.org or contact the Box Office at (781) 279-2200. Greater Boston Stage Company is located at 295 Main Street in Stoneham, MA.