Drag Queens Take Center Stage at the Arden in The Legend of Georgia McBride

Dito van Reigersberg, best known as Martha Graham Cracker, finds his inner Dolly Parton.

Matteo Scammell and Dito van Reigersberg in The Legend of Georgia McBride. Photo by Mark Garvin

Matteo Scammell and Dito van Reigersberg in The Legend of Georgia McBride. Photo by Mark Garvin

Unless you’re immersed in the Philly theater scene, you probably know Dito van Reigersberg only as Martha Graham Cracker, a hirsute drag queen with an innuendo-laden sense of humor and an impressive set of pipes who regularly delights the crowds at L’Etage and other venues around town. But van Reigersberg, a co-founder of Pig Iron Theatre Company, is temporarily trading in his signature persona for a slightly more conventional drag queen — one who lip-synchs instead of singing live — in Matthew Lopez’s The Legend of Georgia McBride.

The comedy, which opens in previews at the Arden tonight, tells the story of Casey (played by Matteo Scammell), an Elvis impersonator in Florida with a newly pregnant wife and a cash flow problem. When the club he works for brings in van Reigersberg’s Miss Tracy Mills to liven things up, Casey reluctantly hangs up his sequin jumpsuit to try his hand at drag.

We spoke with van Reigersberg about the message of the play, and perfecting his Southern accent.

What drew you to this show?
It has this rollicking energy and a real super-wit. So I knew it would be fun. But I was also super excited to work again with my dear friend Emmanuelle Delpech [the director], who I’ve worked with many times as part of Pig Iron and also when she directed me in La Bete two years ago. I was excited to tackle a different kind of drag queen, too, one that’s not Martha and lip-synchs rather than sings. That’s a whole different kind of art form.

Are there elements of Martha Graham Cracker you’re bringing to the role of Tracy Mills?
Of course there is some overlap in terms of the two: They both have big hearts, they are the wittiest people in any room, and they also can put people in their place when need be. But I think Tracy has been through more tough times and is more desperate to find success after all the heartache and chaos in her life.

How’s your Southern accent?
It’s getting better and more reliable. I called my good friend Sarah Chandler in Alabama and read her all my lines; she gave me some key tips. It’s fun to say things in a slow drawl. You can zing with your words in a different way, and you can be sweet and tart all at once. You can find the part of you that’s Dolly Parton or Julia Sugarbaker from Designing Women.

What is the message the play is trying to impart? Is there a lesson there about acceptance?
Yes! I think the play is about how beautifully un-categorizable humans are. A straight man who finds out that he loves drag is an unusual thing. But that’s what happens to Casey in the play. And it’s also about his wife accepting that about him. The play takes us through the tricky phase in which drag is something Casey wears awkwardly, like a Halloween costume. But once he finds his way in, forges a real connection to the drag in an embodied way, his drag is elegant and subtle and transformative. And Tracy is the one who helps get him there.

Arden Theatre Company’s production of The Legend of Georgia McBride runs from October 13th to November 27th. Tickets are here.

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