At the Wake of a Dead Drag Queen offers a history lesson on intersectional oppression—with lip synching | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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At the Wake of a Dead Drag Queen offers a history lesson on intersectional oppression—with lip synching

Terry Guest's two-character play for Story Theatre delivers an emotional knockout.

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When you think of the staggering levels of violence that members of the LGBTQIA+ community continue to endure (or, even more tragically, don't survive), the title of Terry Guest's 90-minute two-hander, produced by Story Theatre, feels like a blow. Guest explores the impact of trauma survived not just once or twice, but as a regular occurrence over decades, passed down through generations and carried in the very genetic makeup of African Americans. In the troubled, defiant, unapologetic life of Black, HIV-positive drag queen Courtney (government name: Anthony), he's created a character who lives and dies at the intersection where race, sexuality, class, and gender collide. He stacks the deck further by setting the story in the sweating red clay of Georgia, layering centuries of slavery and white supremacy into the contemporary context. Directed by Mikael Burke and starring Guest as Courtney/Anthony and Paul Michael Thomson as his white "redneck" lover Hunter (drag name: Vickie), the drama could use a ruthless edit. Guest creates indelible scenes, but some are repetitive, and excising 20 minutes would make for a leaner, more hard-hitting drama.

There are more than a few moments of sublimity, including a breathtaking pas de deux to Shirley Brown's "Woman to Woman." There is also an exquisite deconstruction of lip synch acts that follows their trail from Beyoncé to Josephine Baker to the countless ancestors who came before. The big picture the play paints in words and drag dance involves centuries of "history, acknowledged, questioned and redefined." You need look no further than the New York Times's 1619 Project to understand that's exactly what history needs right now.   v

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