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Trying on a New Persona in The Legend of Georgia McBride

Round House Theatre tells a comic tale of one man's readjustment.

Zack Powell (Casey) and Rick Hammerly (Miss Tracy Mills) in The Legend of Georgia McBride, directed by Tom Story, at Round House Theatre.
(© Kaley Etzkorn)

If you'd like an escape from political rhetoric for a night, head to Bethesda's Round House Theatre, where you can catch Matthew Lopez's comedic play, The Legend of Georgia McBride.

The play takes place in the Florida Panhandle in a scruffy bar named Cleo's, which is owned by the equally scruffy Eddie (Charlie Kevin). Each night, a young and talented Elvis impersonator, Casey (Zack Powell), performs at Cleo's for a few customers. Since Casey goes home with almost no tip money every night, he and his wife, Jo (Yesenia Iglesias), fall behind paying their rent and are in danger of being evicted.

When Eddie's cousin, Miss Tracy Mills (Rick Hammerly), and her friend, Rexy (Dezi Bing), come to visit Eddie looking for a place to perform their drag show, it seems at first that they might end up putting Casey out of work. But when Rexy gets totally drunk one night at Cleo's and is so far gone that she can't perform, Miss Tracy comes up with a substitute: Casey, dressed to look and perform like Edith Piaf.

Never mind that Casey doesn't know who Edith Piaf was or sounded like. Tracy gives a quick lesson in the arm movements that go along with agony and grief. When the audience goes wild for Casey, Miss Tracy and Eddie foresee a financial windfall. They just need to convince Casey to stick around a little longer. For Casey's part, since the money is so good and his wife is pregnant, he decides to transition from lip-synching Elvis songs to lip-synching in drag to famous female singers. When Jo shows up at Cleo's and realizes what her husband has been doing for the past few months without telling her, she is understandably hurt. But with a stylish, over-the-top finale and a bit of education about drag, all's well that ends well.

Powell is sensational as Casey, both in his Elvis persona and his drag routines. Most of all, he makes it abundantly clear that he adores Jo and would do anything for her — even if it means performing as a woman. Importantly, Powell makes Casey's offstage heterosexuality fully credible even as he becomes a better drag performer. Rick Hammerly is a wonder as Miss Tracy Mills, appropriately bossy and motherly. His drag routines are particularly inspired. Yesenia Iglesias is delightful as Jo, a hard-working woman who loves her husband very much. Dezi Bing is sexy and provocative as Rexy and particularly fine in her tribute to Beyoncé. Bing takes on a second role as Jason, Jo and Casey's friendly but persistent landlord. Charlie Kevin is entertaining as Eddie.

Georgia McBride flirts with melodrama at its beginning, but director Tom Story pulls the play back from falling into that dramatic trap, savoring the moments when Lopez delivers his edifying comments and jokes on the nature of drag. A great deal of the success of this production is owed to choreographer Matthew Gardiner, who keeps the movement of the play's many numbers smooth and graceful. Scenic designer Misha Kachman creates a double set on a turntable: a small apartment for Casey and Jo; and a grungy backstage area full of costumes and wigs for Cleo's, where lighting designer Colin K. Bills captures the performers in a spotlight. Costume designer Frank Labovitz's outfits are lavish and evocative, from Casey's fringed, white-and-rhinestone Elvis jumpsuit to Rexy's blue satin shorts, pink socks, and roller skates.

The Legend of Georgia McBride delivers an honest vision of a group of people not often seen onstage. It takes a few jabs at the society which helped to create that group, but it's neither angry nor preachy. Instead, Georgia McBride is intelligent escapism, an outrageous comedy that will make you glad you found it.

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