American Drag Reaches Epic Heights: Epic’s latest is a big show that asks the big questions

Photo credit: Samantha Gaus

Photo credit: Samantha Gaus

The Epic Theatre Company and Kevin Broccoli have got game. There is no denying it. Theatre 82, at the Artists’ Exchange in Cranston, is on fire through April 27 with dance, humor and the American Dream.

“You’re about to be transported to the backstage and dance floor of a drag bar. The performers are getting ready to tell you a story about mythology, history, fiction and reality colliding. Gods are human, humans are zombies, men are women, women are men, some people are both and some are neither.  The play asks: What does it mean to be an American right now? What is the American spirit? American culture?” These are the goals set by writer and director Kevin Broccoli with his latest undertaking: American Drag.

The second play of an expected trilogy from Broccoli, American Drag is a follow-up to the company’s successful 2015 production American Strippers, which enjoyed a run at the New York Fringe Festival and in Massachusetts. But it is not necessary to have seen American Strippers to enjoy American Drag. It stands on its own.

The Greek gods of Mt. Olympus have been reborn as mortal women in modern-day America. Demigod Pan is frustrated by the memory of his lost power and his current human condition. By gathering the former gods together, Pan hopes to build a new mythology that will save the American Dream. Along the way, Pan enlists the help of national female icons Betsy Ross, Amelia Earhart, Emily Dickinson and Marian Anderson who also have been resurrected to modern America, but as men. And where better to start a new ethos than a national drag show competition in Las Vegas?

“Gender has become such a huge part of the national conversation,” said Broccoli. “We wanted to include something in our season that really throws any traditional conventions about gender out the window. It’s also very exciting to us that we get to produce a show that celebrates the art of drag and how vital it’s become to the culture.”

If this all seems like a lot and a bit difficult to track, don’t worry, it’s not. Epic’s production choices are kept simple and straightforward, which gives the rich and witty language of American Drag center stage.

The eccentric characters are dazzling and relatable. Pan, played exquisitely by Angelique Dina, and Betsy Ross, played irreverently and perfectly by Betsy Rinaldi, guide the audience through each twist and turn. Meanwhile Becky Minard, as Zeus, brings a calm balance to the energy on stage.

Lee Rush Schwartz’s brash and bawdy Hades hits just the right note. Nick D’Amico as Emily Dickinson is sensitive and brilliant. Court Stafford, as the opera singer Marian Anderson, is divine. Steph Roger as Coco Chanel is fabulously too much.

Every epic tale needs a villain, and again embracing archetypal icons, Broccoli fills the brief with Rebecca Maxfield as President Ronald Reagan and Megan Ruggiero as The Eagle. Ruggiero’s performance is focused and strong while Maxfield is effectively restrained and calculating.

The remaining cast members, Laura Ash as Poseidon, Jason Karol, Lauren Katherine Pothier, Nancy Winokoor and Carson Pavao (as Jesus), were dynamic and endearing. But nowhere is the vibrant energy of this production stronger than in the choreography by Carlos Caesar Gutierrez. It is playful and exciting; you can’t help but laugh out loud.

American Drag is a smart and funny collision of ideas that is both energizing and entertaining. It effortlessly fulfills Epic’s mission “to bring provocative contemporary work to RI … where each production has built-in excitement both for the audiences and the artists involved.”

Get ready to clap, laugh and lip sync along, because this production is best enjoyed with a healthy dose of audience participation, and it’s clear from the moment you walk into the theater that this is one fun party and all are welcome!

“Here at Epic,” Broccoli wrote, “we use big stories to ask big questions, but no matter how wild things get onstage or how over-the-top the characters we bring to life are, it always comes back to recognizing that all stories beat with the same heart. All of us are searching for a home, a voice and a reflection we can call our own. Gods and poets aren’t all that different.”

If you’re looking for a vibrant evening of drag with depth, you have to get tickets to American Drag, playing through April 27, at 82 Rolfe Street in Cranston. Tickets may be reserved at 401-490-9475 or by visiting epictheatreri.org.

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