Seeing The Golden Girls: The Christmas Episodes at the Victoria Theater is a little bit what you'd expect watching holiday episodes of your favorite 80s sitcom performed live would be like: As the lights go down and the theme song--"Thank you for being a friend"--begins, the entire audience sings along.
When the Christmas tree onstage lights up, the singing becomes cheering. But then when Sophia, the elderly, foul-mouthed Sicilian, scurries onstage, eternally clutching her basket-weave purse to her chest, the audience rejoices in both recognition of one of their favorite characters and at the sheer joy of seeing her performed by the drag-queen Cookie Dough.
This Trannyshack production, which is in its sixth year, makes you think the original Golden Girls, about four older women rooming together in Miami, was created with future drag parodies in mind. At least, it's a natural fit for drag: There's the aspiration to glamour via poofy hair and 80s synthetic fabrics, as well as silly situations--winning the Santa's Little Helper Holiday Spirit Award-- that allow as much room as possible for bawdy humor and sassy remarks.
Here, the four drag performers--Cookie Dough, Heklina, Matthew Martin and D'Arcy Drollinger (who, the night I attended, was filling in for Pollo Del Mar)--both capture this spirit and add a new, subversive layer of humor to it.
Sophia is soon joined by Dorothy (Heklina), her sarcasm-spouting, deep-voiced (here, naturally, it's extra deep) daughter, and their two roommates: Blanche (Martin), a sultry Southern Belle, and Rose (Drollinger), a well-meaning airhead fond of telling long stories about her past in St. Olaf, MN. Two episodes are performed: "Isn't it Romantic," in which Jean (Manuel Caneri), a rabid lesbian, falls in love with Rose, and "Sister of the Bride," in which Blanche's brother Clayton (Laurie Bushman) tells her he's getting married... to a man.
It's a lot of homosexuality for these old ladies to deal with (and on Christmas, too!), and if the production has any flaw, it's that the two acts are so similar in content that some of the jokes later on fall flat. (There's only so many times in an hour one can watch an old lady widen her eyes upon finding out what the word "lesbian" means.)
But the performers' contagious affection for their material more than sustains the show through its repetitive patches, especially with the aid of Van Hedwall's costume designs. His ensembles--garish floral prints, holiday sweaters with 3D appliqués, a ruched red satin minidress with a back cut-out--actually one-up the t.v. show originals.
To showcase this embarrassment of riches, which surely represents years of work scraping the bottom of various Good Will barrels, the performers go through multiple costume changes, during which sound recordings of various period commercials--Alka Seltzer, Mars Bars, the Clapper--play, only heightening the sense of nostalgia for the t.v. of yore.
But in case you think the re-runs on WE TV are enough to satisfy your Golden Girls craving, just ask yourself: Can I watch Matthew Martin, as Blanche, giving an audience member a post-show lap dance in front of a Christmas tree, all from the comfort of my home?
We're not that lucky.
The Golden Girls: The Christmas Episodes continues through December 23 at the Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th Street (at Mission), S.F. Admission is $25 - $30. For tickets visit http://www.ticketfly.com/venue/2161.