DIVINE: LIVE AT THE BOOM BOOM ROOMWritten by Benjamin Lutz
Directed and designed by Ryan Matthieu Smith.
Divine – Brad Smith
Michael – Jonathan Barnes
Frankie – Joey Casoria
featuring Ivana Tramp as Tina Turner
Reviewed Performance: 7/19/2017
Reviewed by Richard P. Buswold, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Trinity Rivers and the Dishonorable Titties is a trio that plays guitars along with a track of keyboards and percussion. They are not great but they are what you would expect a house band of a dive bar to be. They had a good sound and good vocals but were somewhat shaky in the line-up of their set and they were in DIRE need of a sound engineer. After Ivanna Tramp did her opening act as Tina Turner, a perfectly chosen opening act for the whole experience, their sound was completely unbalanced for the remainder of their set.
Ivana Tramp makes a living doing Tina Turner impersonations and justifiably so. She looks like Tina, she has the stage presence of Tina and she can move in those 5 inch spike heels like Tina. She was the perfect choice to get the audience in the mindset that we were in the Boom Boom Room about to witness the Divine.
The actual play is about the famed drag queen, Divine (Brad Smith) and two of his fans who come to the Boom Boom Room one night to see his show. Michael, subtly played by Jonathan Barnes, is a freelance writer that was fired from his last steady job for writing too many "gay articles". He is working on a piece about Divine and is trying to score a backstage interview with him. Frankie stumbly played by Joey Casoria is the fanboy that comes to see Divine and wants to get backstage as well but for a completely different reason.
Divine was the beginning of drag as we know it today in America. There were drag queens before him but RuPaul, Chad Michaels, Bob the Drag Queen all owe their success and acceptance to Divine. Even though he was very much the fringe and an oddity described as "grotesque" when he made all those films with John Waters in the late 60s, he was the first to be known nationally as a "drag queen". By the 80s he had hit records and an acclaimed show and was appearing outside the gay club scene in 'mainstream' venues. Unlike the world's most famous drag queen RuPaul, whose full name is RuPaul Andre Charles, Divine separates the drag from the man. What I mean is RuPaul is RuPaul whether in a smart suit or glammed up in full wig and gown. Divine was not. When in wig in gown Divine was the over-the-top, filthy, foul-mouthed trailer trash bitch we all know and loved. When he was in "street clothes" he was Glenn Milstead – mild mannered gentleman from Baltimore.
I tell you all that to tell you this, Brad Smith nails both sides of Divine/Glenn To. The. Wall. He is a delight to watch as the nervous, self-conscious performer fretting backstage before he goes on and the F-you! F-me! F-the world, you B----! Performer on stage. He has done his homework and truly has the Divine/Glenn character so believable that I think every minute that he is on stage that I am watching Divine. Truly a great performance by a talented actor.
Another fine talent is Jonathan Smith as Michael, the down on his luck reporter trying to get published again. He is the storyteller, the narrator of the play. It’s the story of his night with Divine and the consequence thereof. His character evokes empathy from the audience the moment he hits the stage. We want him to succeed both tonight and in life in general. A marvelous feat for an actor to accomplish.
The blight on the show was the performance of Joey Casoria as Frankie, the fanboy who wants nothing more than to be Divine's lover and have Divine take care of him. He is one dimensional and somewhat boring and he stumbled over his lines throughout the show. My daughter who accompanied me, in drag I might add, noted that "He needs another week of rehearsal," as we left the theatre.
Ryan Matthieu Smith's direction was fresh and invigorating as the Margo Jones is transformed into a nightclub and the audience does become part of the show at times. It is an immersive theatre experience. A wonderfully designed set and audience space makes perfect use of the small black box. The only thing for me was the use of projections were so low that I spent the entire evening with my right eye closed because the projector was eye level with me and about 8 feet away. It really distracted from the show on stage.
There were a few things that were not great about this production, but there is definitely more good times than bad, not the least of which is the performance of Brad Smith as Divine. I fully recommend this show for anyone over the age of 17.
Thurs-Sun @ 8:PM
Tickets are $25 General Admission
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