Toronto
3 min

Joyous community spirit

Drag refuses to die - hooray

SCREAMING FUN. DQ '03 is all about entertainment - much of it planned. Credit: Xtra files

“DQ is a legend at Casey House Hospice…. News that DQ is underway again always makes us cheer. I don’t know a goofier, more joyous, more hard-working, more exasperating, more lovable, more generous gang of people in all of theatre. Thank you DQ: You’re the best.”



June Callwood, in the program notes for DQ ’03



***

The joy, the hard work, the generosity, even the goofiness and the exasperation, is apparent the moment a bevy of beauties prances onstage and begins to entertain with an evening of drag as diverse as one can possibly imagine. Two years in the making, DQ ’03 marks the much-anticipated return of a cherished community institution. An impressive array of professional and semi-professional entertainers makes the whole event a wonderful tribute to community spirit.



The theme of this year’s show is a stroke of genius. Interspersed with classic drag schticks are segments that have been designed to draw attention to the idea of drag as a glorious and cultural conundrum that insists upon rising from the ashes time after time as a resilient and truly fabulous form of popular entertainment. For example: Dolly Parton’s balloon-like breasts bursting during a lip sync rendition of “Nine To Five,” or body parts falling from Patsy Cline during a version of “I Fall To Pieces.”



The whole idea of female impersonation as entertainment has weathered so many attacks over the years, ranging from misogyny to simple declarations that it just isn’t “the real thing.” More recent writing on the cultural positioning of drag argues that all clothing, from Bay St business suits to nurse’s uniforms – male or female – are as much a part of “drag” as any guy in a gown. And as I’ve always said, in response to the Old Testament’s anti-drag leanings: “To hell with Deuteronomy, that full-length gown looks swell on me.”



DQ ’03’s mixture of classic drag with more contemporary takes on what drag can mean, make for an adventurous and thoroughly entertaining evening of theatre.



The appearance of four mature drag queens in act one, including historic entertainers Rusty Ryan and Michelle DuBarry as the “drag-o-sauruses,” was a fitting comic tribute to the significance this art form has had for many decades. Later in the show, a group of very macho men in SM gear, decked out in chaps, leather mini-skits, black feather whips, lip syncing to female diva standards, provided the evening’s line-up with a very comical foray into more recent drag trends that embrace gender blurring. Beautifully beefy, hairy men lip syncing in macho threads was a dazzling form of comic titillation.



The only thing missing from this contemporary panorama of drag potential was a line-up of drag kings strutting their stuff to a Tom Jones classic. Maybe next year.



In the meantime, DQ ’03 shines as a remarkable example of joyful entertainment and poignant story-telling. Using the format from the ground-breaking hit musical A Chorus Line, one number had a gay man telling his story of living with AIDS and how he has survived for so much longer than he ever expected. Although a departure from the exuberant comedy of much of the show, this segment brought home the whole point of the evening.



From the brilliant and comic rendition of the old standard “Tenderly,” to impeccably performed segments from the recent Broadway hit Hairspray, the whole show seemed to be about just getting on with it in the face of insurmountable odds.



As choreographer Graham Maxwell says in his program note, “I told the drag queens I was going to make them dance – and they didn’t believe me. I’m so proud of them.” As a proud audience member it is clear, from beginning to end, that all the performers are having a wonderful time, even dealing with the fabulously fallible tendencies of fallen wigs, exploding balloon breasts and outrageous gold lamé head-to-toe cat suits that make one want to scream, laughing from the audience, “ET, go home!”



As a benefit for Casey House, DQ ’03 contributes to the ongoing work being done in one of this city’s finest homes. Bravo!



* DQ ’03 continues until Sat, May 3 at Hart House Theatre (7 Hart House Circle); call (416) 978-8668.