He’s a playwright working on a piece about drag queens, but Matthew Lopez has never done drag. That may change. “I feel like my days are numbered,” says the young playwright, whose Whipping Man has made American Theatre’s Top 10 Most-Produced-Play List for two years in a row. Drag and comedy are the themes in his newest play, The Legend of Georgia McBride, which received a reading at the 2013 Colorado New Play Summit and gets its first full-length production this month at Denver Center Theatre Company, where it runs Jan. 10–Feb. 23.
In Georgia McBride, an out-of-work Elvis impersonator discovers his true talents lie not in pretending to be the King, but pretending to be a woman. The only catch is that he’s a straight man, which might be a non-issue in New York City, but raises some eyebrows in the play’s setting of Panama City, Fla.
And to take the concept of malleable identity (and gender) one step further, the play’s four-person cast takes on nine characters (10 if you count Georgia McBride), and all costume and character changes are done in full view of the audience. The stage direction for the script specifies: “The idea should be to convince the audience we aren’t hiding any trick from them, even if we actually are.”
For Lopez, drag is “the ultimate extension of a performer getting out of himself. You can hide completely in drag. You have to train to be a dancer, but drag is a populist art form—you don’t need much to perform it well. All you need is some makeup, a wig and a pair of heels.”
Georgia McBride is more than a love letter to the chameleonic aspects of drag—it is also an affectionate look at Panama City, where Lopez grew up, and where he first came out. It was at a local gay bar that a group of drag queens took him under their wings. “My tutelage as a young gay man was at the hands of drag queens,” Lopez recalls.
So with that memory in mind, here’s the really important question: Who would Lopez dress up as in drag? “I’d want to be Chita Rivera. I think I’d be beautiful.”