The highlight of many drag shows these days is the “Drag Suicide” segment at the end, whereby the performer asks the audience for song requests and the DJ assembles all of them for an all-encompassing medley from heaven. A few bars of each song blare out, and the fun is in watching the drag star quickly figure out what it is before launching into her best lip sync and then moving onto the next surprise track.
I’ve seen some inspired performances in this segment, whether it be a manic interpretation of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” or a clueless but game version of Barbra Streisand’s “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” so I asked a bevy of queens to name their favorite and least favorite songs to perform in this increasingly popular challenge. Here, their melodious mixtape of responses.
“My favorites are ’I Don’t Fuck With You’ by Big Sean and ’It’s Raining Men’ by the Weather Girls. My least would be ’My Vida Loca’ by Pam Tillis. I did it on Drag Race almost eight years ago. It was originally supposed to be Wynonna Judd, but it changed to Pam. I love Pam, but it’s not a number I want to boogie to.”
BeBe Zahara Benet
“Anything hard rock or metal is hard—it’s not my style. But I’m ferocious and will come out of that cage and make it work!”
“I love ’I Will Survive’ by Gloria Gaynor. My least favorite: Iggy Azalea. I just can’t know all the words.”
“I love anything and everything by Barbra Streisand—or Amanda Lear. But not Nicki Minaj. I love her to death, but I just can’t lip-sync her.”
“My favorite is ’Show Me Love’ by Robin S. My least favorite is when someone suggests male heavy metal, like Led Zeppelin. People think they’re being cute and want to throw that wrench. We get glammed up, and now you wanna do that?”
Electra St. Jill
“My faves are Ella Fitzgerald’s scat classic ’Air Mail Special’ and anything by Bette Midler, like ’Wind Beneath My Wings.’ But the worst is ’And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.’ It’s such a cliché. And at every drag pageant, there’s always a contestant who just has to do it.”
“My fave is Sia’s ’Chandelier’ because I get to show off what a horrible interpretive dancer I am. The gays go wild! The worst for me is Selena’s ’Bidi Bidi Bom Bom.’ Appropriation isn’t a cute color on me.”
“My favorite is ’September’ by Earth, Wind & Fire, and my least favorite is ’Don’t Stop Believin’ ’ by Journey.”
“My least favorite is ’Fancy’ by Reba McEntire. It’s too many words to learn. Too many!”
“The best is the Propellerheads and Shirley Bassey’s ’History Repeating’—’I’ve seen it before/And I’ll see it again.’ My least favorite is Miley Cyrus’ ’Wrecking Ball.’ I mean, I love her, but…”
“Anything new, I can’t do. Anything too fast, forget it. If it’s old-school, I can do it.”
“I love performing anything during ’Drag Suicide.’ I’m a dancer, and some of my best work comes from freestyle, even if I don’t know the song. Other than that, I like anything I know the music video choreography to!”
“My favorite song: Celine Dion’s ’My Heart Will Go On.’ I get to splash water on myself! My least favorite: ’9 to 5’ by Dolly Parton. Everyone requests it! I’m sick of doing it!”
“I love anything by [late Peruvian coloratura soprano] Yma Sumac. If you’re really good at sounds, you can do an amazing job with it. My least favorite is any generic pop that’s been played to death, like ’Born This Way.’ I love Lady Gaga, but it doesn’t work for that. But really, just look at the list of ’Lip-Sync for Your Life’ songs. Kidding!”
“Brainstorm’s ’Lovin’ Is Really My Game’ is the best—it’s so high-energy. My least favorite is Dolly Parton’s ’Here You Come Again.’ It brings the room down.” [Author’s note: Please don’t request Dolly unless you really need to, folks.]
My favorite is ’MacArthur Park’ by Donna Summer. The least favorite would be ’Break the Dawn’ by Michelle Williams.” [That’s the song Tammie danced to instead of lip-syncing to on RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 1.]
Church of the Poison Mind
Noted French director François Ozon tackles the topic of pedophilia in the church with By the Grace of God, the fact-based story of a man (played by Melvil Poupaud) who’s determined to make a priest accountable for having molested him when he was a child. Two other victims join the battle and come across a brick wall in the form of the church’s blind distortions and excuses, not to mention the priest’s unwavering self-pity. (While not denying what he did, the twisted holy man thinks people should feel sorry for what his sickness has done to him and how it’s ruined his life—he doesn’t seem to realize what it’s done to his victims.)
The movie is careful to separate homosexuality from pedophilia (sexuality is not a perversion, thank you). It’s also very painstaking, and the characters go about their mission in very French-y ways, rarely breaking down or flying into rages. The net effect is a talky docudrama without Ozon’s usual flourishes, but it’s fairly solid stuff.
A Loser Looks for Love in Tracy Letts’ Latest Play
Noted actor Tracy Letts (who’s appeared in plays like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and films like Ladybird) is also the Pulitzer-winning author of the brilliant dysfunctional family epic August: Osage County and other plays like Mary Page Marlowe, his fascinating take on an imprisoned woman’s travails. I found his 2009 play Superior Donuts, about a shop owner and his spunky employee, too sitcom-y for words, and sure enough, it was sold to be the basis for a TV show. His new play, Linda Vista—about a 50-year-old San Diego divorcé who feels, and acts, like a loser—threatens to enter the same territory.
It follows Dick Wheeler (Ian Barford), a self-proclaimed fuck-up whom we watch move into his own place in the Linda Vista housing complex after a bitter breakup. Wheeler was a photographer who aspired to make art but now repairs cameras of the type almost no one uses anymore, feeling he’s well suited to that dead-end job. At first, the show’s banter is a little too glib, as Wheeler rails against a variety of targets, including himself. The tone feels a bit like Neil Simon meets David Mamet, though Letts is merely planting the seeds for what becomes a more interesting piece of work, as directed by Steppenwolf regular Dexter Bullard.
While trying to elevate himself, Wheeler becomes torn between Jules, a perfectly lovely life coach who has a master’s in happiness and radiates positive energy (the role is played by a touching Cora Vander Broek), and Minnie, a bitter, abused 20-something pregnant woman (Chantal Thuy, very good), whom he moves into his new place when she’s in need. Minnie admits to being nothing but trouble, so the self-defeating Wheeler is naturally attracted to her and even wants to father her baby, though he’s already a failure as a dad; we find out his teen son is drawn to a pay website where women are sexually humiliated.
Wheeler’s best friend Paul (Jim True-Frost) blithely tells him that he will end up simply doing what he’s going to do—and that’s just what he does, making all the wrong decisions, like virtually every character onstage. Jules has been hurt before and, though she’s sweet and wise, is almost like a human welcome mat; Minnie is drawn to her abusive boyfriend; and a girl who works with Wheeler at the camera store is also prone to some bad moves.
Most of them are learning and evolving, but while Wheeler gets a tattoo and some snazzy shoes in his attempt to seize back his youth, his references stay etched in stone, whether it be his love for jazz and Stanley Kubrick, his frustration that he wasn’t around when ’70s actress Ali MacGraw was going through her highly sexual phase, or his unmitigated hatred of basically everything else.
Todd Rosenthal’s stage design has a rotating set topped by a large projection of a palm tree–laden visage, and as it keeps spinning, so does Wheeler’s discombobulated head, as it were. After making a mess of things, he’s repeatedly told that he doesn’t seem to envision the people in his life as actual humans, that he doesn’t remember them or treat them as if they’re actually present when he tries to connect with them. The photography theme plays on that: A camera can capture you and your aura. It’s a way to remember someone.
When the play doesn’t dabble in clichés, the jokiness springs into some real wit and insight. And a few scenes—a creepy boss talking about death by cheese grater; Jules repeating “You don’t understand” during sex, or throwing herself into a karaoke number because she believes people need to sing—rise above the mundanity. The result is a mixed bag, but it’s more than just a sitcom.
Main image: Coco Montrese on RuPaul’s Drag Race.