ETC Presents Priscilla

Last night I attended the second preview of the Evolution Theatre Company production of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. ETC is “Central Ohio’s Award Winning LGBTQQIA Theatre Company” and the show is an adaptation of the 1994 Australian film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

The film is in my list of queer movie gift ideas and is a personal favourite. I’ve been around long enough to know that any stage adaptation (whether of book or film) will inevitably leave out, add, or change some aspects of the source material. Staging must take into account physical limits as well as budget restraints. While the movie has plenty of music and drag performances, it is not a ‘Musical’; this production most certainly is. Watching the play with that understanding, I can honestly say that I very much enjoyed the production. A few quibbles to note below, but nothing major. Some of these notes will make more sense if you have seen the movie.

I did find the opening numbers (It’s Raining Men, What’s Love Got To Do With It?) less than stellar. The first song just calls for so much more energy than I was getting. Perhaps just a matter of personal taste; or possibly balancing logistical or vocal concerns?

These were followed by Tick singing I Say A Little Prayer as part of setting up the reason for the rest of the show. The poignancy of Jeb Bigalow’s rendition wiped away any doubts that the production would skip over heart in the pursuit of one more ‘happy memories number’. The rendition is not overwrought. I couldn’t immediately identify why it hit me so hard. Today I think it relates (as so much in my life does) to the huge loss I feel having witnessed my community decimated by the virus we now know as hiv/aids.

The show doesn’t dawdle- there’s so many kilometres to cover, people to meet and stuff to do. The show covers most of the material from the movie; adapting Cynthia’s claim to local fame to the stage and keeping Felicia’s acting out without bringing down the mood, or slowing down the show. The movie has fewer musical numbers, so more time for character development and back story. Audiences who don’t know the movie and feel they’re missing something should certainly check it out.

I must not overlook praising Doug Joseph’s portrayal of Bernadette. Perhaps the easiest character to’ve let devolve into melodramatic tragedy, his version maintains the steel core and deep sadness of Terence Stamp’s original version without mere mimicry. Hunter Minor as Felicia likewise brings his own take to the twinkish ‘bad boy’ who’s yet to learn certain life lessons. As a side note; if you’re a movie buff not yet familiar with the movie perhaps knowing the three leads are played by Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce and Terence Stamp may tempt you.

Now for a bit of a Queer Separatist Rant. The most disappointing aspect of last night was the audience.

I’ve consciously chosen, in the past, to work backstage or offstage; I don’t begrudge anyone who gets on stage any love, adoration or (non-stalker) fans they receive. Previews tend to be heavy with family and friends of cast members. Although a registered non-profit that does pay performers, ETC is a community theatre company at heart. Most of each show’s cast are locals. This one includes a local high school’s theatre teacher and a regional university Theatre Arts major. Seeing that in the programme (and having been to other ETC productions) I was not surprised at the warm reception given each actor’s entrances. Plural- each and every entrance. Certainly I recall the joy I felt watching the inaugural season of Theatre Kent (in s/w Ontario, not the n/w Ohio university town) – celebrating what we collectively had achieved.

This show is mostly a ‘feel good piece’ with great songs, humourous lines and colourful outfits. However, there were a few folks (one just a few seats away from me) that seemed to find the mere sight of socially-identified men wearing wigs and dresses inherently hysterical. Laughter so loud it reminded me of a certain deeply-offended ‘suthern kristian woman’ trying too hard to paper over their disgust. I don’t know the individual, so it could well be just a little alcohol and deep love for someone very special. It may just be “my issue.”

My reaction obviously is personal- but a sharp reminder that even in our modern ‘free and equal’ society there are places and experiences that are tribe-based. Events where outsiders may be allowed, but too often don’t (perhaps can’t) fully understand and appreciate the experience. The drag aspect of this story of course brings to mind heterosexual visitors to gay bars. This also happens with outsiders in leather/ fetish/ kink and other queer spaces.

How much these experiences annoys is personal; how strongly its presence in any specific audience varies. As we say on the intertubes, YMMV– Your Mileage May Vary. Of course this is not in any way, shape or form, something that ETC can address beyond advertising, as they do, as an LGBT/Q organization.

* Image is promotional artwork published on the ETC website;

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