Aging & barrooms & drag queens, oh my!

Friday November 29, 02
by David Cuthbert, the Times Picayune

The flip phrase "Nobody loves you when you're old and gay" is really saying something that applies to any society that worships youth, denies the wisdom that experience often brings and removes seniors from family and friends into facilities where "care" is a flexible term.
"Aurora Borealis" is a comedy-drama by New Orleanian Timm Holt that explores this problem from a specifically gay viewpoint that is simultaneously universal. What is the answer for aging people who have outlived family and friends, or who have families who long ago turned away from them? When "community" is largely defined by a loud and youthful culture, how does one fit in, remain relevant and retain an identity?
Holt, retired doctor of geriatrics, sets his play in a French Quarter watering hole called The Good Times bar. Our hero is Gene, a lofty, legendary, 70-ish drag performer, who, in Noel Coward's words, believes "that old age needn't be so dreary and sad as it is supposed to be, provided you greet it with humor and live it with courage." Gene favors brocaded Oriental garb in bright colors and a severe black bun, making him look like Rex Reed playing Beatrice Lillie's Mrs. Meers in "Thoroughly Modern Millie."
"Even though the world wants to see an ugly caterpillar, I want to show them a butterfly," he says.
He has a protégé of sorts in Jerry, a.k.a. Gerri Van deWhore, a brash young drag queen who "just wants my clothes when I'm gone." Jerry's actually good for Gene, cracking jokes about him. "If you're hanging around Gene," says Jerry, "you better know CPR." Gene has a bad hip, cancer and is headed for a hospital stay.
He has a loyal, chipper female friend in Nancy, who helps him get around and introduces him to Jim, a 50-ish returnee to New Orleans who is just starting to feel the effects of age and his own waning attractiveness, resentful of the young men he sees living for the moment, not knowing that "Today will become the tomorrow you feared yesterday."
Act One is a debate about aging that offers laughs and food for thought. Act Two is a holiday bar show that lets actual drag performer Connie Marcelle slink around in red velvet, lip-synching to Ruth Brown's "If I Can't Sell It, I'll Keep Sittin' On It," and drag diva Princess Stephaney summon the memory of '50s pop princesses such as Connie Francis with Natalie Cole's "Jingle Bells." Jim and Nancy are the unbilled guest stars in black leather doing Jim Lehrer's "The Masochism Tango," and the big finish is Gene's duet with Jerry on the Rosemary Clooney-Vera Ellen politely bitchy "Sisters," from "White Christmas."
The strongest actors are Michael Chase-Creasy as the uneasy, middle-age Jim, Grace Fraga as winningly flip gal pal Nancy and especially Dan Kuras as Gene. Kuras brings a deep, cultivated speaking voice, real presence and an airy authority to Gene that embody another era. H.G. Stelz is also an asset as Tom, the Santa-like bartender.
Blake D. Balu's Jerry, the fledgling drag artiste with the most glamorous wardrobe, comes across as the newly hatched spawn of Becky Allen and Roy Haylock.
Problems include some stilted and slowishly paced dialogue, static staging and a sparsely populated barroom scene. Holt, who runs a bar and also directed, should know that he needs more patrons for atmosphere, including a smattering of younger clientele to illustrate the young vs. old discussion.
Still, Holt is a writer of promise, and "Aurora Borealis" is another step up for the gay and lesbian drama group DRAMA! in tackling a germane social issue with knowing humor.
What: DRAMA! presents an original play written and directed by Timm Holt.
Where: Cowpokes' Barn Theatre Space, 1030 Marigny St.
When: Fri-Sat at 8 p.m. and at 3 Sun through Dec. 7.
Tickets: $10 at the door; $8 in advance, $7 for seniors and students. Call 948-9924.