Clark Worden & Robbie Smith in The Legend of Georgia McBride. Photo: Pandora Productions
The Legend of Georgia McBride
By Matthew Lopez
Directed by Tony Lewis
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2022 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Elvis is King! Or at least Casey (Clark Worden) believes it, and he has worked very hard to develop his impersonation of the legendary figure for the sparse audience at Cleo’s, a divey nightclub in Panama City Beach, Florida owned by Eddie (Sean Childress).
Casey is married to Jo (Adama Abramson) who complains about Casey’s irresponsibility while they struggle to pay the bills.
And then two professional drag queens arrive at Cleo’s, Tracy (Robbie Smith) and Rexie (Immanuel Guest), complicating life for Casey.
Identity is a great theme in storytelling and Matthew Lopez pursues how fluid identity can be; how we can discover parts of ourselves we might have never imagined possible. It is worth writing about, and the play gets its points across in an entertaining fashion without too much pedantry, yet it is also maddeningly predictable in its narrative. Most all of the main story points can be seen coming about 30 minutes ahead of time.
The dialogue is also too often ordinary, even mundane, with an occasional flash of true wit and a few moments of focused intention that stick the landing. The structure is the same “entertainer finds themselves” success story that can be found in movies like Walk The Line except that instead of Johnny Cash finding his voice with “Folsom Prison Blues” here a fledgling drag performer finds their groove with inspiration from Elvis Presley.
The cast brings a lot of energy to the task, perhaps a little too much, as there are times the performance felt slightly hysterical. Director Tony Lewis has pitched the action as a farce, and the production fights to find space for the small, tender moments between Casey and Jo.
Still and all, the actors make good impressions. Clark Worden convinces us of both Casey’s optimism, fear and embrace of drag culture, which is a neat hat trick, and after a run of highly original gender-fluid roles, Adama Abramson nicely extends her range playing a version of the loving wife and mother with great humor. Robbie Smith captures the ruthless but still compassionate duality of Tracey and paints an indelible portrait of a veteran drag queen. They all deliver well-founded performances, I just wish it was all turned down a notch.
Immanuel Guest has the greatest difficulty, so broadly drawn is Rexie, but late in the story he delivers a powerful monolouge about what is really at the heart of being a drag queen, the reality behind all of the artifice and glamour. It is well-trod but still important ground, and Guest focuses his energy very effectively to make the moment work.
Sean Childress as the club owner and Joe Tindle as Casey and Jo’s stoner landlord have fun playing characters that ask for little beyond cliches.
The design work gets the job done, and the lighting appropriately indulges in a quite a bit of follow spot for the nightclub scenes. Lewis stages the nightclub scenes with that same indulgence and there is a clever use of blackout montage to show the stages of Casey’s development as a drag performer.
The Legend of Georgia McBride has something important to say about intolerance and acceptance of our innermost selves, and however much I wish it said it more artfully, the message is clear, and Casey’s struggle is an interesting one that asks the right questions.
With Adama Abramson, Sean Childress, Immanuel Guest, Robbie Smith, Joe Tindle, Cark Worden.
The Legend of Georgia McBride
September 2, 3, 8, 9, 10, 12, 15, 16, 17 @ 7:30 pm
September 4 @ 2:30 p & 11 @ 5:30 pm
The Henry Clay Theater
604 S. Third Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.