My mother is going to a drag show next week.
And I'm not the one dragging her there.
This past summer I was lucky enough to catch Jinkx Monsoon, the most recent winner of RuPaul's Drag Race, in her cabaret show The Vaudevillians. So lucky, in fact, that I saw the show twice in the week I was there.
Perhaps luck had nothing to do with it. Perhaps I had planned this whole trip with the express purpose of seeing my favourite performer in a show I had watched repeatedly on YouTube. Perhaps I even dragged my mother along to the second viewing in order to score VIP seats. It's all speculation.
I was beyond excited to be seeing The Vaudevillians, both for entertainment purposes and in maybe finding a new best friend named Jinkx Monsoon, but I had never expected the high point to be my mother's reaction to the event. To be clear, there was never any chance of my mother taking issue with the show, yet there was also no guarantee that she was going to enjoy tongue-in-cheek drag humour amongst mostly drunken members of the Monsoon Mafia.
Mom's been dragged to tons of stage shows thanks to my sister and myself. She's an OBGYN in her fifties and would much prefer a British mystery series to live theatre, but when The Vaudevillians ended that night I realized something: she had been quiet throughout the performance. My mother's silence was noteworthy since she typically makes comments and whispers into your ear whenever we're in such a setting, but this time was clearly different. For the first time, her attention was held and her interest sparked.
The Vaudevillians features Jinkx Monsoon (performer Jerick Hoffer) as Kitty Witless, an ex-gutter-level-prostitute turned chanteuse, and her husband Major Scales (Richard Andriessen), the man on the piano who dragged Witless presumably kicking and screaming out of the gutter. The couple had a vaudeville act back in the 1920s until one day they found themselves trapped in their car, buried by an avalanche. The pair froze, but thanks to foresight, they had enough cocaine in their systems to keep them alive.
When Witless and Scales thawed out in the 21st century, they turned on the radio to find out all their original songs from over 90 years ago had been stolen and bastardized by today's artists. Some of the artists who stole the songs in question? Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Madonna, and Janis Joplin to name a few. The Vaudevillians gives the pair the opportunity to perform their songs as they had written them and a stage on which to air all their dirty laundry.
In The Vaudevillians, Hoffer as Kitty Witless plays a biological woman, which differs from the Jinkx Monsoon character, a drag queen persona. "I just said 'for these characters, let's just do it straight.' I'm not a man dressed as a woman, I'm just a woman," says Monsoon, "and it really leads to more opportunities, 'cause then those jokes are more nuanced and more subtle, rather than beating the audience over the head with 'that's a drag queen playing a woman.'"
In the days before RuPaul's Drag Race, Monsoon's skill at acting and sounding like a woman meant often times audience members were shocked to find out Witless is played by a man. "Drag Race has robbed me of people being confused one way or the other, but the joke is still there -- a man dressed as a woman," continues Monsoon, "we actually for years have had a joke about doing a sequel show where Kitty gets pregnant, so we had to keep her female so that one day that's an opportunity, that she gets pregnant."
The show was created when Hofer and Andriessen were in theatre school together, both with bit parts in Our Town. "We just got on this kick of talking about the oldest people in the world," says Andriessen as both actors put on old timey voices and do a little skit about "flaming homosexuals" and general stores, reducing me to giggles and hoots. "At one point we started incorporating pop songs," continues Andriessen as Monsoon erupts into Janis Joplin's "Piece of my Heart" with a Charleston feel. "And we had this cabaret show coming up and that's how it all started out," adds Monsoon.
Post show that night, with my sister and mother, we had a meet and greet with the actors. After a chorus of "c'mon, mom!" my mother took a picture with Witless and Scales. That's another thing -- she doesn't pose for pictures, but even she couldn't resist the Jinkx Monsoon charm. Monsoon was clearly trying to make my mother feel comfortable, and she did. She made a fan.
The Vaudevillians will be in Toronto next week, October 25th at The 519 Church Street Community Centre for its Canadian premiere. Two shows, one night, and all the proceeds go to support the centre. My mother will be in attendance without daughters, without being coerced, and with weeks of anticipation leading up to the night. She's still a tad worried that she's not cool or hip enough for a drag crowd, but she was so blown away by what she saw that night in Manhattan, so overcome by Jinkx's warm welcome of a kind mother who would accompany her adult-like daughters to a drag show, that for the first time in ages she's letting social insecurities go. My mother is going to a drag show.
"The Vaudevillians" plays Oct. 25 at 7:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. at The 519 Ballroom, 519 Church Street, Toronto; Formstack.com.
"The Vaudevillians" continues its run in New York City until Nov. 11 at the Laurie Beechman Theater at the West Bank Cafe, 407 West 42nd Street, New York; (212) 352-3101, SpinCycleNYC.com.