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Wednesday 14 April 2010

Review: Confessions of a Drag Queen

Posted in: Performance
By Tony Richardson - 27th November 2009

Review: Confessions of a Drag Queen

Thursday 26 November 2009 at BATS Theatre, Wellington

The publicity for Confessions of Drag Queen cautions the performance "may contain traces of nuts"... not only is this a pun on creator/producer Ricky Beirao's Brazilian nut heritage, and what RuPaul describes as "your candy" but it's a triple entendre too. After seeing the show last night, I'm convinced Beirao's got some big balls to take a drag performance beyond the usual lip-syncing-look-at-me drag schlock and begin investigating what could turn into an engaging work to our community.

Ricky Beirao AKA Rhuharb Rouge
For 80 minutes Confessions time-travels through Ricky Beirao's 22 years. This story begins in Brazil, but rather than incorporating clichés like Carmen Miranda and Carnaval, Beirao takes us to the not-glam world of a non-English speaking queer kid at some Hutt Valley high school.

Enter Stage Camp: Rhubarb Rouge is born premature at a Wellington bar and the show really begins. Forget the impersonations of gay icons and worn out drag clichés, Ricky takes real stabs at characters, honest-to-God singing, fingers-on-keyboard piano playing and even live-action puppets. Kay Smith and Hayley Sproull are the real women/real performers who support Ricky with carefully crafted style and humour. There are lots of laughs and even the beginnings of tears.

The production is ragged around the edges. The lights and audio are carefully designed and executed while the 15 or 20 costumes range from the banal to almost fabulous. Ricky stumbles and stammers a couple of times on stage, but one senses the audience collectively forgave him at every turn. Sometimes the performer and the audience seem to be flirting with each other. Is it because he is talking truths? Because he is telling stories about gay bars, gay saunas and gay sex? Maybe the audience likes him because he willing to take his shirt off to reveal a less-than-athletic torso? Nevertheless, Ricky has an on stage charm that many hard-working actors lack. He is an act, rather than an actor.

Yes, New Zealand has far too few Brazilian-born drag queens so I'm thinking Ricky has that corner covered. What New Zealand does lack is the sort of passionate and truthful drag queen that Ricky is becoming. It ain't easy, for Wellington's drag culture got knocked off its heels years ago. Long gone are the nightly drag performances and all night cabarets where a lad could learn the craft. Gone too are 'Drag Mothers' that guided their 'girls' in all the elements of drag; costume, hair and makeup, singing/lip-syncing and dance. More importantly, good Drag Mothers offered wisdom too, ways to "live the life" without the destructive behaviors that have left so many young queens tits up in a coffin.

Confessions of a Drag Queen already has the nuts, now Ricky needs to find a few bolts to make a fully realized performance. Oh yes, as part of the usual drag queen bravado, Ricky rewrote a few lines from Roxie from Chicago to include "Ribena and Buckwheat will shit I know, when they see their names below, Rhubarb Rouge". At the risk of sounding like John Key, I'm thinking those girls would welcome some open and honest competition.

Confessions of a Drag Queen continues at Wellington's BATS Theatre until Saturday 28 December.

Tony Richardson - 27th November 2009

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