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Friday, December 4, 2015

The Golden Girls Xmas Drag Re-Enactment Is Officially a Holiday Tradition Now

Posted By on Fri, Dec 4, 2015 at 12:30 PM

  • Mr. Pam

"If you talk or yell out punchlines, we will send you to Shady Pines," threatens the disembodied voice of Dorothy Zbornak (Heklina) as the raucous audience settles down for The Golden Girls: The Christmas Episodes. It's been happening for 10 years now, and this version is bittersweet: Cookie Dough, who played Sophia Petrillo, passed away unexpectedly last winter. (She is the dedicatee of 2015's go-round.)

While this drag show is a re-enactment of two classic episodes, it's hardly a slavish reproduction. For one, the impossibly complex house has become a mini-kitchen yoked to a mini-living room, with a lanai peeking out from behind. And there seemed to be more ad-libbing than in years past, or at least scripted departures form the original text. But the best deviation is the near-constant costume changes. While Matthew Martin's Blanche sashays in a gold-garland trimmed kimono, Heklina's Dorothy cycles through one garish holiday vest after another, at least one of which is hanging on by a single button.

Typically, drag shows draw one of two audiences: queers hungering for some avant-garde performances, or a straighter set looking for laughs. The Golden Girls pulls from a much wider reservoir of fans. While the original show, which went off the air 23 years ago, seems only to have grown in esteem — and sole surviving cast member Betty White is still going strong at 93 — the idea that The Golden Girls would be so strongly associated with the holidays is a bit strange. Yet, refracted through San Francisco's love of the offbeat, it's taken on a life of its own. People return in gaggles, year after year, as if the Victoria were a mall Santa. Gay, straight, whatever: It doesn't matter. It's tradition now.

click to enlarge MR. PAM
  • Mr. Pam

Heklina's uncanny resemblance to Bea Arthur anchors the show, but this year, Matthew Martin takes center stage. Blanche's over-the-top pronouncements were a consistent source of hilarity on the show, but once placed in front of a live audience, Martin's lamentations over Blanche's daughter's desire to be artificially inseminated ("Sperm used to be free!") add a new dimension to the preening, past-her-prime Southern belle's character. Blanche was always performing for an audience; now she really can.

The physical comedy gets sillier, too, when a fertility doctor wields a turkey baster or Dorothy and Sophia eat popcorn out of the latter's handbag while watching their roommate's mother-daughter spat. Being short of stature, Holotta Tymes — who refers to herself as a female impersonator, and not a drag queen — is well-cast as Sophia. Although no one could replicate Estelle Getty's cranky staccato cadences, Tymes nails her shuffling walk and squinty expression. Because Rose was always dopey-sweet, it's hard for D'Arcy Drollinger to avoid being outshined; Rose's un-outrageous persona just doesn't lend herself to being augmented by a factor of five, TV characters known for their stupidity are mostly a thing of the past now, and Drollinger is at her best playing mischievous sexpots, anyway.

Nancy French, in the role of snobby author Barbara Thorndyke, manages to hold her own against an established ensemble. She's basically playing Calista Gingrich, albeit with heavier contouring, and when the character's anti-Semitism is revealed, she might as well be Cruella DeVil. It's an easy excuse to grandstand for liberal righteousness, but it sucks the audience in. And in spite of Dorothy's warning against audience participation, during intermission, when the pianist plays simple carols ("Deck the Halls," etc) to incite a sing-along, people substitute "meow meow meow, meow meow meow" whenever they don't know the lyrics. The holidays are at their best when also at their gaudiest, and when people make traditions their own. The Golden Girls: The Christmas Episodes still does just that.

The Golden Girls: The Christmas Episodes, through Dec. 20 at the Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th St.

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About The Author

Peter Lawrence Kane

Peter Lawrence Kane is SF Weekly's Arts Editor. He has lived in San Francisco since 2008 and is two-thirds the way toward his goal of visiting all 59 national parks.


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