The Legend of Georgia McBride is being developed into a movie, and when it's complete it could serve as a mandatory orientation video at the Gay 90's.
Matthew Lopez's 2014 play — now at the Guthrie Theater — centers on a straight man who dons a dress because he needs the work, and who ultimately learns an important lesson about the dignity of drag.
Yes, it takes some plot contrivance to explain how drag becomes a profitable enterprise for the underachieving Casey (Jayson Speters). He wants to be an entertainer, but his Elvis act just doesn't pack 'em in the way the queens do. That's what he and hayseed impresario Eddie (Jim Lichtscheidl) learn when the latter does his drag-queen cousin Tracy (Cameron Folmar) a favor and hires her to take the stage at his Florida panhandle nightclub.
Beyond the fact that Casey, whose wife Jo (a warm Chaz Hodges) has just announced she's pregnant, really needs the job, he discovers that his drag persona, Georgia McBride, brings out new and welcome dimensions of his personality. Tracy patiently mentors Casey despite resistance from Rexy (Arturo Soria), the troubled queen who loses her spot as Tracey's onstage partner.
There's a lot of drag performance in Georgia McBride, and the Guthrie pulls out all the stops to make it extra spectacular. Costume designer Patrick Holt is a veteran of RuPaul's Drag Race (where he appeared in 2015 as Tempest DuJour), and people must already be forming a line at the Guthrie's costume rental facility for the day when they might be able to rent a Statue of Liberty cape with stars-and-stripes inlay, or a giant wearable beach bucket with matching sand-castle headpiece.
Don't look to Georgia McBride for a complex plot or subtle characterizations. It's the kind of play where every time there's a knock on the door, you know exactly who it's going to be because that's whose turn it is to appear and register shock, envy, adoration, whatever. Casey serves as a proxy for straight audience members who don't get how and why drag is about more than just funny guys in crazy outfits, and Lopez opts to focus on one big, humane message — delivered in a stirring monologue by Rexy — rather than to unpack the scenario's deeper dimensions of privilege and prejudice.
It's no surprise the play has been slated for the big screen. The script is consistently entertaining; in addition to the drag performances, there's a steady stream of zingers for Tracy and the irresistible Cinderella story that sees fabulous new life breathed into Eddie's run-down club.
At the Guthrie, director Jeffrey Meanza finds just the right tone: the setpieces go big, but the solid cast focus on the storytelling and only chew the scenery when that's exactly what their characters are trying to do. In a nice touch, some of the show's costume changes are executed onstage by crew members who demonstrate just how much quick and precise work is normally hidden from the audience's view.
It's just about impossible not to smile at the show's feel-good conclusion, which delivers a level of pizazz the McGuire Proscenium Stage may never have seen before. The audience claps gamely along as the actors learn one more lesson: The only thing harder than keeping a Minnesota audience from jumping to their feet for the curtain call is getting them up and out of their seats during the actual show.