Terry Guest wrote this play and is the lead role, Courtney/Anthony, a dead African American drag queen performing in Athens, GA. The story is told in flashbacks, beginning with Courtney in her prime -- long red wig, sexy dress, gloves, heels, cape, and smile. When Courtney smiles, the audience melts with a sigh. Terry Guest is a provocative drag queen with a little lipstick and huge eyelashes.
Courtney’s protagonist/lover, Vickie/Hunter, is strongly played by Paul Michael Thomson. They perform in a sleezy club and fall into love/lust. As anathema as homosexuality is to the black community, it is equally deplored by Hunter’s family of Georgia crackers. Both young men are HIV positive.
The one-act play takes place mostly in a dressing room upstage, backed with mirrors, wigs, and a long line of flamboyant costume dresses and jackets stage right. Much of the dialogue faces the mirrors, away from the audience, but reflected, providing the aura of privacy. The drag performance stage is center left, large when compared with the dressing area. But Courtney is not limited by the stage, she is immediately flirting with us, dazzling with that smile and chatting us up. Often Vickie/Hunter directly address the audience.
“At the Wake of a Dead Drag Queen” works on many levels. The two men are strong and beautiful in costume and performance. They are vulnerable and sad dressed for the world outside the stage door. They are both living with AIDS; Courtney/Anthony unsuccessfully, seeming to shun assistance. Vickie/Hunter appears to be on medication, maintaining his spirit as Courtney/Anthony withers.
Both actors are strong. The writing is direct and left me wanting to read the play to see how many layers Guest weaves into his dialogues and monologues. As an audience member who has never been to a drag show, that environment was fascinating. As a theater fan, the story was engrossing. On a human level, this is a wake, and I felt loss.
Highly recommended for fans of small, edgy theater.
Terry Guest will premier another play with The Story Theatre, “Marie Antoinette and the Magical Negroes”. Just the title assures that I’ll be there. Sign up at their website for future production information.