In the Moment: Another look at Round House’s ‘The Legend of Georgia McBride’

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Round House is the current Promised Land for anyone wanting to get happy. With its divine, illusion rich production of The Legend of Georgia McBride helmed by Tom Story, Round House is a divine, sunny place turned into a drag club known as Cleo’s.

Dezi Bing and Rick Hammerly in The Legend of Georgia McBride. Photo courtesy of Round House Theatre.

And, at Cleo’s, there is a slam-bang musical performance before the audience as if the patrons were inside the small, seedy club not fearing who would see them, even if they are straight, middle-aged, high mucky-mucks of industry, business, or (gasp) even government here in the DC area.

But, wait. Georgia McBride is way, way more than just a well-performed drag show. Under Tom Story’s first-rate attention to detail, aspects of Georgia McBride are not unlike a good, old-fashioned, family, kitchen-sink drama with some bitter edges to overcome before all can be right in their world.

With Story’s fine hand, dramatic scenes, even if predicable as written by Matthew Lopez (The Whipping Man), have a real life believability to them. Story and his splendid cast capture what it means “to listen” and “to hear” another human being’s pain and desire to be treated with respect.

In several Georgia McBride dramatic scenes, the characters are not just “talking past” each other. They are not just delivering a monologue. They are making a connection with one another so words and feelings sink in. In these scenes, characters have eyes on each other; they are glued, not faking it with a “yes and a shake of the head.”

My DCMTA colleague David Friscic’s review is rightfully glowing, just as the production deserves. So let me add a couple of dramatic moments full of bitter edges that caught my undivided attention.

Without giving away too many plots points, in one scene, Rick Hammerly as Miss Tracy Mills delivers a verbal slap meant to hurt Zack Powell in his role as an at-first irresponsible, young man named Casey, who is trying to discover who he is and how to present himself. Hammerly does not just throw the proverbial shade when he demands of Powell, “Who are you?” And the answer that Powell initially stammers out is “I felt like a fag.” And that verbal slap leads Powell to consider who he is and how to present that person, and to begin to ponder what is expression of one’s inner self and what is acceptance of one’s self and others.

Dezi Bing in The Legend of Georgia McBride. Photo courtesy of Round House Theatre.

In another scene, Dezi Bing in her role as Rexy speaks of the pain, humiliation, and physical hurt that life has brought her, and what she does to survive. Once again, Powell as Casey stops his own stammering about himself to try to understand that the Cleo drag show is not just a short-time, flamboyant caper for others he has come to know.

As Casey’s wife Jo, Yesenia Iglesias has her own winding journey to understanding Casey, the man she so loves but has kept too many secrets from her. She has to deal with and accept him and his multiple layers of expression before she can live her own life with him.

As I journeyed out of Round House in downtown Bethesda the night I took in the production, the lobby was abuzz with what seemed an older, suburban, mainstream crowd beaming with joy and happy talk. Overhearing conversations, the frisky Georgia McBride had clearly wiped away many layers of stress and angst for the patrons. They spoke of the visual feast they had witnessed. They were hugging one another, happy to have found a place of solace for a couple of hours.

As for the fictional Cleo’s, well it reminded me of DC in the mid-1970’s. I was living near 8th and G Street SE and working for a time in Buzzards Point not far from the Half Street area when it was much grimmer with a Pepco Plant, FBI locations, a crappy government building that housed the Coast Guard, and an HHS agency not far from a warren of allies and clubs. DC had its own hidden away Cleo’s. But you know that, don’t you? Perhaps some in the Round House audience also remembered those days.

So, take in The Legend of Georgia McBride. Come for the comedy. Come for the drag performances. But stay tuned to the drama. That is the true heart of the production.

The Legend of Georgia McBride plays through July 1, 2018, at Round House Theatre – 4545 East-West Highway, in Bethesda, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 240-644-1100, or purchase them online.

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