Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Fringe 2011 Reviews: Radioactive Drag Queens From the Year 3000

I must admit I was slightly confused when I noticed the team of actors wearing drag queen costumes to promote Radioactive Drag Queens From the Year 3000 was mostly comprised of women. However, within a few minutes, the play explains this odd choice well. You see, after more than a thousand years of drag queen culture, particularly once said queens became a high-status class, drag queens are still men but have perfected the female look incredibly well. In fact, they generally have a great time of it…except for their radioactive hairspray, that is. This is explained by the officious but warm Celeste (Nicole Fairbairn) and her drag robot Blip (Anne-Marie Krytiuk) to Doug (George Bertwell), aka Mademoiselle Betty Croquet, a wannabe performer who has owned a drag bar for many years without getting onstage. After the radioactive drag queens land in his bar after hours, Doug is informed that a first-time performer from his bar will have a show the next day that will be pivotal to drag queen history, and that Celeste and Blip have been sent to protect this performer from an evil saboteur. Doug is eventually joined in his incredulity by straight-but-disbelieved bartender Sean (Kevin Vidal), who tries continually and unsuccessfully to score with paranoid android and supremely literalist Blip. This choice of female actors playing two of the three drag queens is the first indication that this show does not deal with the topic in a stereotypical manner.

The play focuses on a dual message; the first, the importance sharing your true self, particularly when you don’t conform to any culture or genre’s stereotype, may be well-worn but is delivered with warmth and humour, particularly in Doug’s final monologue. The second, bolder message centres on bartender Sean’s story; it strongly rejects the notion that a straight man working in a drag bar should expect to have his sexuality questioned and mocked by the bar’s patrons, even if he secretly believes he could give a better drag queen performance than any of them. Sean is a character who is both maddening and sympathetic, and his message, with its unusual twist, is thought-provoking. While on one level one is reluctant to praise this “think of a straight person’s feelings” message to the gay community within a week of the mayor’s refusal to participate in Pride (and can totally understand if some took offense), there is a strong and valid point that, to eventually get to a truly enlightened society, everyone must be supportive of the innate being of everyone else, no matter what that does or does not conform to.

The script is light and funny even with its considerable message; unfortunately, it has several cheesy jokes, but most punchlines hit their marks. Laughed perhaps a little too hard at an extended Settlers of Catan joke, which proves drag queens can enjoy a good board game as much as the rest of us. The joke, again, is an example of how the show shies away from the stereotypical to find humour in the slightly unexpected and fresh, even if many plot twists do seem either contrived or obvious. All actors are ultimately likeable, though there is the occasional line flub and some actors are less natural and stiffer than others (yes, that’s what she said), and that’s not counting the robot. Contrary to most of its advertising, the show has made a deliberate decision to focus on soul rather than flash, which is welcome. It’s not great theatre, but it’s not completely a trifle, either. Radioactive Drag Queens From the Year 3000 isn’t what I expected it to be, but that’s okay. In a way, it’s better.


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