Dorian Corey (ca. 1937-93) was a legend on the New York drag circuit of the 1970s-80s, as founder of both the clothing label Corey Design and the voguing House of Corey, which won more than 50 grand prizes in the Vogue Balls of the era. In addition to starring in the live shows, Corey was featured in the 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning, chronicling the voguing ball culture and its diverse communities, and appeared in the 1995 film Wigstock, immortalizing the annual outdoor NYC drag festival and concert.
After Corey’s death of AIDS-related complications on August 29, 1993, at the age of 56, investigators found the mummified corpse of Robert Worley behind all the sparkling costumes in the closet of her Harlem apartment. Last seen by his family in 1968, Worley appeared to have died from a gunshot wound to the head, approximately 25 years before the gruesome discovery was made. The case was never solved.
Playwright Jeffery S. Jones, Artistic Director and Executive Producer at Notsew Productions – dedicated to the Off Off-Broadway tradition of telling the stories of traditionally unheard marginalized voices, with a positive view of race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation – is reopening the file on September 10, with a witty new take on the elusive murder mystery in his original play Case Closed: The Dorian Corey Story.
Jeffery kindly took some time out of his rehearsal schedule to answer a few questions about the genesis of the work and its ongoing relevance for today.
What inspired your interest in the Dorian Corey story?
Jeffery: When I first saw The Boys in the Band, I remember thinking that life for the one Black friend in the group must have been so much harder than it was for the white ones. After giving a lot of thought to what life was like in 1967, if you were Black and gay in the City, I started interviewing people who were there, and most told me it was difficult, being attacked, beaten up, and called names. But one said, “Let me tell you the true story of the mummy in the closet,” and I was fascinated by it. I had also met Dorian twice, before all of this came out, and I was intrigued by those meetings with her, as well.
How did you approach the narrative, in terms of format, style, and genre?
It’s a whodunit about the murder, but in my eye, I see it as a comedy, even though there are some serious parts, so I guess it could be called a dramedy. Act I takes place right after the body is discovered in 1993, with the police questioning Dorian’s friend, and then it shoots back and forth in time through the use of flashbacks. Act II is set in 1967, in Dorian’s apartment, and re-enacts the story of what actually happened. But I want everyone to know that the production is very funny and quick-witted, and it’s also very showy – we spared no expense on the glittery, beaded, feathered glam of the costumes!
What are your own personal memories of that time in NYC in the ‘90s?
I had a blast! I was living in Summit, NJ, and going into the City a lot, though I was more of an observer. I wasn’t really part of the scene, but I was in the audience, and it was an incredible time, so I wanted to capture the fun and the sparkle, not just the murder.
Why is this true historic event important now?
I think it’s important for everyone to pay homage to the pioneers of the LGBTQIA+ movement; there wouldn’t be a movement if it weren’t for people like Dorian Corey and all our forefathers/mothers. She was one of the first to take in gay street people, who were thrown out and disowned because they were gay, into what we now call houses. She knew where to get them training and jobs and places to stay; it was like a gay finishing school. Then they would pass it on, so that we still have those kinds of houses today.
What message do you hope audiences will take away from the show?
I didn’t really have any particular message in mind; I wrote this as a love letter to these trailblazing people. But I hope that viewers will come away with the idea that family is what you make it. Sometimes you have to forge your own, and those are as strong or stronger than the family you were born into; bonds, friendship, and love are not limited to birth families.
Many thanks, Jeffery, for giving our readers a sneak peek at the play. I look forward to being there on opening night!
Case Closed: The Dorian Corey Story plays September 10–October 10, 2021, with Notsew Productions, at the Gene Frankel Theatre, 24 Bond Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $50, with discounted Student and Senior admission available for $30 on Wednesdays and Sundays), go online.