By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
It sounds like a sublime punchline: a drag show, in all its be-wigged glam-frocked glory, as a radio play?
True, there’s a certain captivating perversity about the Guys in Disguise revival of their hit Fringe show Dragula — opening aurally this week.
But when you hear the very funny trailer for the radio play version of Darrin Hagen’s and Trevor Schmidt’s spoof-y gothic romance, with its creaky doors, eerie whooshes, and strange echoes — not to mention the wooden high-pitched tones of the dimbulb virginal heroine — you’ll catch the drift of the pluses, too.
Guys in Disguise, a company with more a three decade-plus archive in bending gender and match-making drag and theatre, premiered Dragula 10 Fringes ago on the Varscona stage. The absence of that massive showcase, where Guys in Disguise are bona fide stars, is the immediate impetus behind this new version (though they’d been thinking of re-doing it as a podcast, Schmidt says).
If it hadn’t been for COVID, there would be a new Schmidt/Hagen hot ticket running at the Fringe as you read this, starring its two creators along with Jake Tkaczyk and Jason Hardwick. “Crack in the Mirror,” which we are now officially missing, “is set in a women’s community group in the late ‘70s,” says Schmidt of the might-have-been. The theme of the monthly meeting is “mirror mirror on the floor.” The principal prop? Hand mirrors; you can take it from there.
Dragula, explains Schmidt, “marries gothic to the Hammer (horror) films from the late ‘60s…. Everything looks gothic except the hair!” He’s amused to remember a prime question from every radio interview he and Hagen have done about their Guys in Disguise Fringe productions. “‘Can you describe to our audience what you’re wearing?’ Darrin would be in his cargo shorts and Hawaiian shirt and I’d be in a tank top and whatever. And we’d lie!”
So in a nod to this venerable media tradition, I ask Schmidt (who’s also the resident Guys in Disguise costume designer) on the phone what he’s wearing as virginal heroine Virginia Hymen, possessor of the hilarious voice, “dumb as a sack of hammers, quite blank.” He obliges: “A perfect dress. A seersucker-sucker stretch gothic gown, empire waist. Lace gauntlets. A beautiful antique lace negligee with a long train. Off-white….. And a huge beehive.”
The poster art is a tip-off, and owes its inspiration to “pulp novel covers,” says Schmidt. “Almost always a young woman running away from a castle. Usually at night.”
The gist of Dragula, he says, is “young virgin goes off to castle and discovers intrigue,” etc. Naturally, Virginia, who’s playing with more than a few cards short of a deck, “takes a candle and wanders the castle at night, through towers and dungeons….” As sound designer/actor Dave Clarke has fashioned this abode, it’s a veritable repository of aural effects: wind, screams, barking dogs, slamming doors….
OK, you can’t see the garlic sausage in this aural version. Or the spooky lighting, or the giant picture frame the actors carried around the stage to change the setting. Or the two wooden stakes, one big one small, “for the Big Moment,” as Schmidt says. But, says Hagen, “you feel the set and taste the costumes…. And Trevor’s voice is so funny! He wasn’t sure people would realize how jaw-droppingly stupid his character is” without the visual accompaniment of blank looks. Hagen assures us that we will. The heroine’s “wooden flat delivery, without subtext of any kind” is a show-stopper for aural theatre.
The castle’s proprietor, as you will have surmised, is the Countess (imagine the statuesque Hagen in a selection of glamorous goth attire) with the sinister outgrowth in dentition. Virginia’s uncle Professor Dick Von Dick (Clarke) is a manly vampire-slayer. Wilma Fingerdo (Davina Stewart) is the Countess’s henchperson and former lover (“we don’t sleep in the same coffin any more”). Needless to say Wilma is a bit snarly about the arrival of a rival, especially a young and virginal one with a girly high-pitched voice. The narrator is voiced by Patricia Darbasie.
As in so many Guys in Disguise comedies, the serious — feminism, sexual politics, thoughts about the patriarchy, gender politics — is approached playfully, outrageously. “Sneaky fun,” says Hagen, whose play 10 Funerals is the grand finale of the upcoming Shadow Theatre season. “I really like to tackle big subjects with humour, and slip in the ‘lesson’,” says Schmidt.
Playwright/actor/activist/ queer historian Hagen calls Dragula “an allegory of homosexuality,” and vampire lesbianism is centrestage. Von Dick is the representative of the patriarchy, “saving women from their own lust…. Hey, a battle of good and evil!”
“It’s the first play where we purposely didn’t have swears,” says Schmidt, who’s currently working on a Bollywood-style indie film. “We wanted to see if we could do it.”
Have a peek at the trailer: https://guysindisguise.bandcamp.com/releases. That link is where you can get the $10 tickets soon. And hey, it’s a bargain. Hagen pictures you and your pals listening in your backyard “after midnight.”