I believe Robi Hager (Writer/Producer) is on to something…Drag Theatre! He has written, with John Treacy Egan, a lovely send up to the ladies of Drag as well a life lesson for becoming a trans ally.
Basic Witches has been workshopping all year in preparation for their Philly premier. I have followed their clever and enticing social media marketing for some time now. Knowing nothing of the script or score, it made for a refreshing night out.
In the program, dramaturg Viv//Ian Chace educates the audience with a quick lesson on Transgender Identity.
“Transgender is an umbrella term for people who defy social expectations of how they should look, act, or identify based on their birth sex.”
I found this particularly enlightening. As someone who identifies as an ally, there is simply so much more for myself and this world to learn about this colorful community way beyond the rainbow.
This story revolves around four famous witches who compete for the title of Supreme Witch of Halloween Hills. The witches are played in full drag by several known Philly Drag artists: Vincent Celeiro (Davanity), Scott McMaster/Miss Elaineous (Westernia), Bobby “Fabulous” Goodrich (Oceana), and AJ Jackson (Strudella). While prepping for the main event, we are introduced to apprentice Eddie, adoringly played by Sav Souza, who hopes for their own magical powers to be enriched. The evening’s host and reader of the night was exceptionally played by Eric Jaffe. Brennan S. Malone (Punkin) and Lorenzo Ballesteros (Boney) round out the cast.
Basic Witches is performed at the Arden’s Hamilton Arts Center, not known for full fledge productions. However, it is known for producing several cabarets. The set, as designed by Christopher Haig, was set up like a cabaret venue with the standard drag runway. Every table was adorned with creepy, spooky, Halloween flare. The production was simple and understated. For a cabaret act or drag show, it’s perfect. It wasn’t your standard night of theatre nor was it your regular late night out at Drag Wars.
Director Steve Pacek marries the two worlds and gives us a new form of drag! So many drag queens are rooted from the theatre with killer pipes, yet the regular art form is walking a runway, being kitschy, and lip syncing to the diva’s a yesteryear. Don’t worry, there is a full number devoted to that too! But here, Hager writes some lovely melodies for these thespians to wail. The downside was that the lyrics/story were muddy as the sound system including microphones were distorted and diction was quite hard to decipher. On the flip, Pacek creates some charming staging, along with choreographer Jenn Rose, that keeps you chuckling throughout. Bring your dollar bills!
Jillian Keys created extraordinary costumes for the ladies of the night that complimented their characters with aplomb. Like Strudella in a 50s Donna Reed like get-up or Oceana with a tip of the hat to Ursula. Bobby Goodrich designed the wigs that deserve their own zip code.
Basic Witches runs just a few more performances through the weekend. Catch what could quite possible become a yearly Halloween tradition for the inaugural season. Did I forget to mention there is a bar?
Photos by Jenna P Photography