The gloom of recession is everywhere, and the holidays, rather than providing a respite from the powerful reality of the financial crisis, may seem to exacerbate it. People are losing their jobs. Bindles are replacing briefcases. It ain’t pretty out there.
Just minutes before entering the Desert Rose Playhouse for the opening night of The Dolls’ production of Christmas at the Yucca Vista, I found out that someone close to me (who, for privacy reasons, may or may not have the same parents as me) was laid off from his job. This news, while not unexpected, was still shocking in the sense that the moves and miscalculations of speculators several states and many income brackets away aren’t just unfortunate in the abstract—they’re ruinous in the actual. And now I had to watch a Christmas play. Unless it involved the Cratchits razing Scrooge’s manor and co-opting his business for the working man, I wasn’t in the mood.
I should have had more faith. Faith not in Christmas, but in The Dolls. The Dolls, godmothers of Albuquerque drag, have put on satirical Christmas specials for years that are guaranteed to counteract the treacly tendencies of the holiday season. This year’s special, Christmas at the Yucca Vista, features Dolls co-founder Tequila Mockingbyrd as Pandora Clark, a woman who looks around her community (the Yucca Vista trailer park) and sees a cast tailor-made for a reality show. Pandora jumps on the opportunity to enter a contest that will award the best video producer a chance at fame and fortune. Along with her best friend and radio show co-host Daphne Jones (A.J. Carian), Pandora turns on the camera, hoping to highlight the foibles and follies of her fellow park residents.
Though she stokes the fire, Yucca Vista’s denizens don’t need much help. As it’s Christmas Eve, everyone is rushing around preparing for the annual Jesus and Elvis Hail to the Kings Nativity (replete with Elvis-shaped pork chops), organized by Louella Dobbs (Prissy Strait). The success of the nativity is put in jeopardy by feuding rivals, unvirtuous virgins and a family crisis that threatens to end not only the Christmas production but relationships between the main characters as well.
However unconventional, this is still a Christmas play, with lessons learned and bonds restored. The journey there, though, is earned and isn't presented as inevitable. The cast is entirely committed to their characters, creating the optimum atmosphere for satire. The leads set the tone. Tequila Mockingbyrd imagines Pandora as a Cruella De Vil-styled queen bee, though she’s never haughty or intentionally cruel. Carian’s movement and accent as Daphne are some of the highlights of the show. Though her character is one of the more understated (remember the spectrum we’re talking about here), her reaction shots are hilarious.
Another central relationship is that of two archenemies: Bible-thumping, Pussycat-protesting Mary Helen Tubbs (Jim Johns) and the tarot-card reading, belly dancing resident of trailer number 666, Maria Conchita Romero (Madison Eriks). Both Johns and Eriks bring to these roles a sense of joyous absurdity that exceeds the sum of quips and wigs. Through their thoroughly unrealistic portrayals, each manages to hit at something true.
The beauty of drag, with its dedication to both heightening and obfuscating reality, is its ability to serve up social commentary. Like science fiction, drag’s creation of a new set of standard truths allows it to question mores and norms. Christmas at the Yucca Vista does this, taking on topics of religion, hypocrisy, class and our obsession with voyeuristic entertainment—mostly by way of lip-synching and fart jokes, but still.
One of the play’s most poignant moments comes toward the end, as Pandora and Daphne conclude their midnight radio broadcast by reflecting on what they’ve learned about friendship and love through the course of the day’s insanity. In times like these, sometimes it requires two men in giant wigs and high heels to remind us that, whether we live in a trailer park surrounded by reality show rejects or are boning up on bindle-making and canned bean recipes as part of a new economic reality, it’s how we love and are loved that’s the measure of a life. That's not going to buy baby a new pair of shoes, but it can make the old ones seem a little more fabulous.