REVIEW: Divine/Intervention Is Just That

A scene from "Divine/Intervention"

A scene from “Divine/Intervention”

There’s drama on the stage of Voyeur Nightclub.

That isn’t anything new, until you realize it’s an actual drama, the Philadelphia premiere of Divine/Intervention, and that the play is actually really good. In short, even if the only thing you know about Divine is the utterly gross film Pink Flamingos, you should see this deliciously dark production that is superbly performed.

Yes, it is a little strange walking into Voyeur and expecting to see some sort of well-crafted dramatic performance, and, yes, I think the play would be even better staged in a “real” theater. But, something about the space, with it’s exposed walls and dark interior and folding plastic chairs, adds an eerie dimension to Divine/Intervention that a playhouse couldn’t.

All that aside, the work here is deeply gripping and moving, and brings to light a question that I often find myself asking about drag performers: What happens when the make-up is gone and they look in the mirror? Does the experience literally dehumanize the performer? The answer that Divine/Intervention gives to that last question is a sobering “yes.”

The play provides a fantastical spin on the life of Glenn Milstead, the man behind the literal shit-eating Divine, and takes the audience in the actor’s hotel room on the night of his death. Here, he debates his alter-ego, literally, on matters of his career, his love affairs, and his own self worth.

Milstead’s life could have very easily been a Shakespearian tragedy: On the eve of his big break, filming what was most likely going to be a reoccurring male role on the insanely popular sitcom Married With Children, he died in his hotel room. To this day, most people know nothing of Milstead, but could easily identify his red-dress wearing, big hair donning, filthy drag persona.

E. Dale Smith‘s script juxtaposes this conflict nicely. There’s some fine writing here that really explores the seedy bars and the personal torment that Milstead had with his revolving door of lovers. The play’s director, Braden Chapman (who is, ironically given the circumstances, better known as his drag persona Mimi Imfurst) really does an excellent job pacing the intense moments between Milstead and Divine.

However, the huge stars are the dynamic duo at the center of the drama: Ryan Walter (Quintessence’s As You Like It/Richard II) is spectacular as Milstead, and has, almost eerily, mastered the late performer’s subtle vocal nuisances and physical tics. Bobby Goodrich, who is known for his drag character Cleo Phatra, possessed Divine and all of her dark, over-the-top qualities with such flair, you swear you’re watching an old John Waters’ movie.

During one of the more intense moments towards the end of the play, Divine begins to rip off her costume, exposing her male chest and her balding hairline, and stares at Milstead, who breaks into tears. “I don’t want to see that,” Milstead screams when he realizes that, in that very moment, Divine is him. It’s a truly gripping scene, one that makes you question the cost of fame and how an individual can get lost in the shuffle. This production, which will move to New York after the Philly run, clearly won’t get lost in that shuffle.

‘Divine/Intervention’ continues performances at Voyeur through August 2nd. For tickets and more information, click here.