Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Lopez is best known to Twin Cities audiences for his excellent play The Whipping Man, presented at Penumbra Theatre in 2009 and Minnesota Jewish Theatre in 2017. Based on that serious work, which opens deeply felt wounds among Civil War survivors, one would never guess that Lopez could turn out so funny, fanciful, and life affirming a confection as The Legend of Georgia McBride, but here it is, for audiences to savor in the Guthrie's full-bore production.
Casey's Elvis act has not been much of a draw at Cleo's, a tumbledown club in Panama City Beach, Florida. The proprietor, Eddie, can barely muster up the energy to introduce Casey to the handful of audience members. Casey persists, because playing Elvis is his passion, but it isn't doing much to pay the rent. When his wife Jo, who works as a waitress, tells him she is pregnant, Casey beams that they can raise their child on love, but Jo is more practicaland worried. Things get worse when Eddie decides he needs a new act to bring paying customers to Cleo's, and brings in his cousin, formerly Robert but now the fabulous Miss Tracy Mills, to see if a drag show will fill the seats.
Casey is stunned when Tracy arrives with her fellow performer Anorexia Nervosa, who goes by Rexy. To soften the blow, Tracy persuades Eddie to keep Casey on as a bartender. One night, Rexyprone to angry outbursts and large quantities of boozepasses out and is unable to perform. Casey offers to fill in and reaches for his Elvis suit. Eddie agrees to put Casey on, but not as Elvis. Casey is pressed into service, but just this once. With Tracy's coaching, he bumbles his wayhilariouslythrough an Edith Piaf routine, in spite of the fact that he had never heard of Piaf, nor spoken French.
How this one night stand, if you will, becomes the catalyst for Casey's self-actualization, and the choices he makes that profoundly affect not only him, but Jo and their soon-to-arrive babywell that's the play. There are serious issues taken up, not only about Casey growing into himself, but the nature of drag as both an art form and a birthright. It all flies by in two hours, with no intermission, aided by a script that is howlingly funnywith most of the best lines belonging to Miss Tracy Millsand musical numbers staged with panache and delightfully outrageous costumes.
While the performances all ring true, the show is especially held together by Cameron Folmar's performance as Tracy Mills. Tracy has endured the slings and arrows of a rough life, and through it all has earned wisdom and composure that enables her to plow through whatever comes along, all the while dishing out hilarious bon mots. Folmar portrays Tracy as strong, inventive, persistent, smart and compassionate, all of which have been essential to her survival. When Casey seeks her counsel as his life seems to be falling apart, Folmar finds a different tone for Tracy, one that says, 'I have worked though my demons, I can't work through yours.'
Jayson Speters gives an affecting portrayal of Casey. At the onset, Speters depicts Casey's commitment to his Elvis routine, yet with a sense that something is missing. He slowly finds that something in the guise of Georgia McBride, releasing a host of feelings, which Speters convincingly renders. He also shows us Casey's growth from a man-child who blows the rent money on a pizza to a responsible adult who has found his place in life. As Casey's wife Jo, Chaz Hodges has far less to do, as her part mainly calls for her to react to Casey, but she plays it with charm and a bit of grit. A scene in which Casey calms Jo's fears by massaging her feat especially conveys the sweet chemistry between them.
Jim Lichtscheidl is a hoot as Eddie, on the verge of throwing in the towel at the onset, but whose practical instincts make him master of ceremonies of a white hot drag show, while he rakes in the cash. Arturo Soria completes the cast, playing two roles: the melodramatic Rexy, and Casey's childhood buddy turned landlord, Jason. As Rexy, Soria mounts a pedestal, claiming space for herself in a world that has caused her pain and sorrow, turning poignant in describing her tortured childhood, and proclaiming defiantly that "drag is not for sissies." As Jason, he is a regular bro, then surprises with a riff on a past out-of-the-box relationship that is moving in its wistfulness.
Jeffrey Meanza, recently appointed Associate Artistic Director at the Guthrie, makes his debut helming one of the theater's productions, and prove his mettle well. The combination of ingredientsscenes that are outright slapstick, other scenes that are movingly poignant, the increasingly complex performance numbersall slide gracefully into place, with an overarching tone that tells us all of these characters deserve our love. Choreographer Matthew Steffens has staged the musical numbers with equal parts elegance, wit and sex.
The Guthrie has put its hard working costume department to the test on The Legend of Georgia McBride, and the costumers emerge victorious. Designed by Patrick Holt, the imaginative and hilarious costumes worn by Tracy Mills and Georgia McBride in their performance pieces are worth the price of admission themselvesespecially a series of get-ups that celebrate the passing holidays of the year. The primary set piece (scenic design by Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams) is the chaotic backstage area at Cleo's, but it allows the other locations to glide in and out with ease, while the musical numbers are performed in front of the stage curtain. A few audience members are seated in the front at bistro tables, adding to the nightclub effect.
In calling his play a "legend," Matthew Lopez may be saying that it contains both truth and exaggeration, just as the legends of Davey Crockett or Molly Brown take larger than life figures from history and embellish them with untruths. Casey's metamorphosis is certainly believable, though the steps in which it occurs are a stretch. The transformation of Cleo's from a dive bar into a major night-life venue could occur, but the costumes and stage effects on par with, well the Guthrie itself, seems unlikely. The closing scene certainly takes us beyond the plausible and into the land of wish fulfillment. But that's fine. In fact, that's fabulous. The Legend of Georgia McBride is a call to honor and celebrate our deepest wishes. See this play, then take time to reflect on a wish or two of your own.
The Legend of Georgia McBride, through August 26, 2018 at the Guthrie Theater's McGuire Proscenium Stage, 618 South 2nd Street, Minneapolis MN. Tickets: $29.00 - $77.00. Rush seats, when available, from $15.00 - $30.00, cash or check only. For ticket information call 612-377-2224 or go to GuthrieTheater.org.
Playwright: Matthew Lopez; Director: Jeffrey Meanza; Choreography: Matthew Steffens; Scenic Design: Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams; Costume Design: Patrick Holt; Lighting Design: Ryan Connealy; Sound Design: Scott W. Edwards; Vocal Coach: John Patrick; Dramaturg: Jo Holcomb; NYC Casting Consultant: McCorkle Casting, Ltd; Stage Manager: Jason Clusman; Assistant Stage Manager: Justin Hossle; Assistant Director: Laura Leffler; Design Assistants: Alicia L. Fredrickson(costumes), Megan Jolene Winter (lighting), Reid Rejsa (sound).
Cast: Cameron Folmar (Tracy), Chaz Hodges (Jo), Jim Lichtscheidl (Eddie), Arturo Soria (Rexy/Jason), Jason Speters (Casey).