The Theatreguide.London Review
Royal Court Theatre Winter 2008-2009
Tarell Alvin McCraney's play is an open-eyed celebration of the lives of drag queens, one that is fully aware of the essential pathos of their lives and the bitchery and back-stabbing that are part of it, but that still concludes that having a world of any sort as long as it's their own is worth all the imperfections.
It is somewhat less sentimental than, say, Rikki Beadle-Blair's similarly-themed Stonewall, seen in Edinburgh and London a couple of seasons back, and therefore somewhat less enjoyable in itself, a lot of the fun here generated by director Dominic Cooke's high-energy production.
One of the 'Houses' or family-like groups of an urban drag scene has been challenged to a vogue-off by a competing House, all prestige and status in the community riding on the outcome.
One of the younger queens has begun a promising romance with a guy who is gay but not part of the scene, and a basic question of the play is whether she can reach outside the House and still retain its comforting protection - this in spite of the fact that we also become aware that things are not at all perfect within the almost incestuous hothouse world of the House.
The plot works its way out, and things that are far from ideal in the resolution or in the House are just accepted as the price to pay for the comfort this alternative family offers.
While story and characters provide the backbone of the play, much of its surface and all of its energy come from the lead-up to and climactic presentation of the big competition.
Throbbing house music underscores almost every scene, while a trio of real women serve as a kind of Greek Chorus With Attitude, keeping things moving and sustaining an atmosphere of party-party-party.
Director Cooke and choreographer Manwe show us what is exciting and fulfilling about this life, letting the play's darker notes creep in through the cracks in the veneer.
A large cast is led by Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and Alex Lanipekun as the lovers, with strong support from Kevin Harvey and Danny Sapani as the imperfect Mother and Father of the House.
But the strongest contribution to the evening's success comes from the high-energy and high-struttin' Chorus of Holly Quin-Ankrah, Kate Gillespie and Jessika Williams.
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