If the idea of a play filled with snarky references to Gypsy, the Von Trapp family, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof sounds like something right up your alley, then there’s a hell of a good time waiting for you at Stoneham’s Greater Boston Stage Company. But if the name Frances Gumm doesn’t mean anything to you, all such references might leave you feeling a little left out.
The Legend of Georgia McBride, Matthew Lopez’s legitimately funny 2015 play, is the story of a down-on-his-luck Elvis impersonator who, by some Peggy Sawyer/Gypsy Rose Lee-like twist of backstage fate, finds himself thrust on stage as a last-minute replacement for a drag queen too drunk to go on.
The play shines brightest when it isn’t trying too hard to be serious, which luckily is most of the time. But for all of the play’s hilarity, this production is most memorable for the enigmatic starring performance at its core.
In what appears to be his first leading role on a Boston professional stage, Jared Reinfeldt has that unlearnable ya-either-got-it-or-ya-ain’t special something that gives his performance a spark (and, in this case, a sparkle) that shines with near-blinding intensity.
Reinfeldt plays Casey, a good ol’ Southern boy who is no longer able to make ends meet doing his Elvis impression at Cleo’s, a godforsaken Panama City Beach bar that, as one character says, even Anne Frank would have passed on. (Cleo’s is run by the crusty Eddie, played by Ed Peed.) Casey’s been spending more on gas than he makes, and his rent check just bounced because he ordered a pizza.
Oh, and his girlfriend is pregnant.
Backstage at Cleo’s on the night of Casey’s final performance, he crosses paths with a pair of drag queens, Miss Tracy Mills (a sensational Rick Park) and the tough-as-nails Rexy, short for Anorexia Nervosa, played by Alex Pollock. (Pollock also doubles as Jason, Casey’s dopey landlord who can’t pay his mortgage if Casey doesn’t pay his rent.)
But Rexy passes out drunk before she can take the stage that night, quite a feat given that she “once gave a flawless performance of Barbra Streisand’s ‘Jingle Bells’ after three Oxys and a Zima.”
Casey is quickly thrown in drag and shoved on stage to perform an Edith Piaf number. The crowd eats it up, and Casey becomes a regular drag performer with Miss Tracy, calling himself Georgia McBride and earning more money than he ever made as an Elvis impersonator. They’ve got a good thing going until Casey’s girlfriend, Jo (Jade Guerra), finds out that he’s been performing in drag and Rexy returns from rehab with a vengeance, eager to get rid of Casey and get back into the show.
The play’s more serious tones emerge in these later scenes, particularly as questions of gender and sexuality swirl around Jo and Casey (her first question when she finds out that her boyfriend has been doing drag is if that means he’s gay). And although the play only glances in this general direction, it brings some heft to the evening.
It also touches on the potentially problematic way that Casey—a straight, white man—mindlessly profits from drag, something that people like Rexy consider anything but a hobby. Drag is who Rexy is. “Drag is a raised fist in a sequined glove,” she tells him.
Lopez only flirts with such seriousness, never quite engaging fully with the very interesting ways that his play blurs the lines of gender. (Would Georgia McBride be stronger if he had? I’m not sure.) His gift for bitchy, campy humor, though, is uncanny. “I just took an Ambien,” Miss Tracy warns Casey at one point. “I’m gonna turn into Jessica Lange at any second, so you’d better make it quick.”
The impact of the play is somewhat degraded by Alex Pollock’s off-the-mark performance as Rexy, who is given some of the play’s absolute best jokes. He’s appropriately standoffish, but he does not navigate the bitchy zingers with ease. His poor comic timing is a problem throughout, and as a result this Rexy is a missed opportunity.
Director Russell Garrett’s production is largely irresistible, but I found myself cringing at the tasteless way that he staged Rexy’s performance to Amy Winehouse’s Rehab, writhing around on the floor with a bottle of alcohol and pretending to pass out. Rexy is better than that, and while most drag queens engage with larger-than-life depictions of their treasured divas, seldom do they devolve into cruelty and disrespect the way that Garrett does here. The other drag numbers, which Garrett also staged, are merely adequate. (Monica Giordano’s sound design doesn’t help matters.)
Reinfeldt may be this production’s irresistible star, but Rick Park is the beating heart of this Georgia McBride. As Miss Tracy Mills, a queen who has had her fair share of ups and downs, Park’s performance is both deeply felt and wildly funny.
But at the end of the day, it is Reinfeldt’s impossible charm and organic talent that make this Legend of Georgia McBride something worth celebrating.
THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA MCBRIDE. THROUGH 5.20 AT GREATER BOSTON STAGE COMPANY, 395 MAIN ST., STONEHAM. GREATERBOSTONSTAGE.ORG