When I walked into the sold-out Aux Dog Theatre on Saturday night, I thought I was in for a treat. The Dolls have been making a name for themselves since 1996 with their original material and drag-tastic interpretations of classics like The Importance of Being Earnest and Blythe Spirit. They're purported to be the crème de la crème of the Albuquerque drag scene. So it was a surprise and a disappointment to find their latest offering, Miss Mary Christmas, such a chaotic mess.
“The play is cute, having fun at its own expenxe and giving a knowing wink to the local drag community.”
The new play by founding Dolls member Kenneth Ansloan centers upon a fictitious Christmas drag contest set in Albuquerque. Four drag queens vie for the title of Miss Mary Christmas: First, there's Drew Campion, a.k.a. Tequila Mockingbyrd (Kenneth Ansloan), a once-renowned queen of the New York stage washed up in the New Mexico desert. And then there's Ivana Cocatoo (A.J. Carian), a young, bored rich boy who got into the game in search of excitement only to discover “even drag's a drag.” There's Jenny Tonic (Aba Ortiz), who has recently come out and subsequently been spurned by her family. And finally, there's Connie Adovada (Jaime Pardo), the wicked villainess sick of being “the Susan Lucci of Albuquerque drag,” who will stop at nothing to win the coveted crown.
The play is cute, having fun at its own expense and giving a knowing wink to the local drag community. And it would have been a lot funnier if it hadn't sabotaged itself at every turn.
The entire performance seemed to run as one giant, two-and-a-half hour wardrobe malfunction. Because the story takes place largely in the dressing room backstage of the competition, we see outfits flying on and off hangers, and a lot of quick changes from one costume to another. Inexplicably, the performers were unable to pick up a dress or wig without knocking over a piece of the set or getting it caught on the furniture. Ill-fitting costumes bunched, twisted and slid about awkwardly on nearly every actor. At one point, Ivana Cocatoo's dress simply fell off altogether.
It wasn't only the costumes that received slapdash treatment. The song-and-dance numbers came off as sloppy and under-rehearsed, and many of the actors were still reaching to remember their lines. Jokes fell flat as actors stumbled over dialogue and missed the timing completely. The only notable exceptions are Jay Kincheloe and Jim Johns. The two stole the show as Candy Apple and Abby Normal, respectively—old guard Albuquerque queens turned “drag mothers” to two of the younger contestants. The production’s energy instantly revived when they stepped onstage, and the humor worked as they bickered with each other and pecked at their young mentees.
This was the opening weekend for Miss Mary Christmas, so it's only natural that the performers should still be working out the kinks. Even so, the show seemed a long way from the polished piece of comedy I expected from a collection of queens whose good name preceded them. Was this just a fluke, a bad case of opening jitters? I’m curious to find out; I’ll see them at their next production.