Before the world insisted on Facebook friends, we settled for quality one-on-one time. Or, at the very least, something that loosely resembled the likes of Dorothy, Sophia, Rose and Blanche, the beloved characters on the classic, long-running, Emmy-winning NBC sitcom The Golden Girls. (Thank you, for being our friends, ladies.) For an '80s show that revolved around the camaraderie between four ladies in their prime sharing a Miami home, it surpassed expectations and boldly did a few important things really well: Create stellar comedy and tackle issues few shows at the time would even consider embracing.
It didn't hurt that its stars--Bea Arthur, Estelle Getty, Betty White and Rue McClanahan--were pitch-perfect in their roles, either. Which is probably what caught the attention of four San Francisco drag performers eight years ago, long after the show went into syndication heaven.
Why not perform a few of the series' classic holiday shows--in drag?
Sure--why not? It's San Francisco, after all.
Enter Heklina (Dorothy), Cookie Dough (Sophia), Matthew Martin (Blanche) and Pollo Del Mar (Rose). The local show became a big hit in modest settings but a few years ago expanded to a larger venue in the city. The series, which ran seven seasons, only boasted two holiday episodes. After years of performing them--with delicious drag twists, of course--the "girls" decided to toss a little Christmas cheer into several regular episodes.
On the agenda this year: The classic episode where the girls meet Burt Reynolds, take a hotel room in Miami and are mistaken for prostitutes and whisked off to jail. The second episode performed is dubbed "Rose The Prude"--Rose goes on a cruise, meets a guy and has sex with him. Expect some holiday fun tossed into both "episodes" for good measure. (The show runs Dec. 5-22--12 performances--at The Victoria Theatre.)
I recently caught up with revered drag performer Heklina (Dorothy) to learn about the local GG legacy and so much more.
Greg Archer: What do you love most about morphing into the character of Dorothy?
Heklina: Well, I do several roles during the years [in shows like this]. I've done [drag renditions of] Sex and the City and Friends and Roseanne, but for me, the Bea Arthur character--Dorothy--is my favorite. It's the most like me. I am very much like Dorothy Zbornack. And I think Bea Arthur had such amazing timing. So, it's fun to do that. And it's the most beloved show I do. People like Sex and the City and Friends [in SF] but The Golden Girls really resonates--not just with gay men or straight women but really, everybody.
What are some challenges to getting it right? The beat? Those comebacks?
The big challenge is delivering those jokes as those women did. Those four actresses were brilliant. The comic timing. That's the challenge--getting it down. And the looks. What Bea Arthur wore back then was so crazy. Rose and Blanche are easy to shop for, but Dorothy, those clothes were more specific. But the show itself, the comedy is already there. It's really about doing justice to the comedy.
Why do you feel the drag version has become such a hit in The City?
I remember when we first started doing this in somebody's living room and it was always a campy Christmas show that people wanted to see around Christmastime, but now I feel it's really something people just enjoy, regardless of the holidays. It's a show with a lot of heart to it. I think people always walk away from it with that 'feel good' feeling. And I think everybody can relate to the characters and really, they were custom-made to be portrayed by drag queens. And every gay man, they come to the show, and say, 'Oh yeah, me and my friends come and I'm Dorothy, or I am Blanche or I am Rose.' They all relate to them.
Why do you think that is?
The show was so far ahead of its time. It tackled subjects like HIV or gay marriage a long time before they were mainstream issues, you know?
What do you enjoy about being in this cast? You all play so well off of each other.
It's definitely different. You know, we were a group of friends that started this together in a little house in Hayes Valley and it's grown from here. But ultimately, we are all friends with each other and yet, we have to act like professionals, and be there and be on time. But really, we are still all a group of friends still doing this, and I think that it's ultimately very good for the production.
What do you think has been the most quirky or fun thing you have learned by being a part of it?
I guess I have learned to give people what they want, as far as theater. I guess that I do have comedic timing. I never studied it but it comes natural to me and I am grateful for that.
Some fun questions: Rattan or leather?
You're talking furniture, right?
Nice robes or nice nightgowns?
Slippers or socks?
Coffee or tea?
Dark-haired men or light-haired men?
Pie or cheesecake?
Catch the 8th Annual All Drag Christmas Exdrag-a-ganza--The Golden Girls: The Christmas Episodes--from Dec. 5-22 at the Victoria Theatre in San Francisco. Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 7 p.m. Learn more here.
Catch my backstage peek at the holiday shows below: