Dito van Reigersberg, the acclaimed Philadelphia actor and performer best know for his alter-ego drag star Martha Graham Cracker, is trying on a new drag persona with Arden Theatre Company’s production of Matthew Lopez’s “The Legend of Georgia McBride.”
The music-filled comedy follows Casey, a young, down-on-his-luck Elvis impersonator who is losing his job and finds out his wife is expecting their first child. His club brings in a drag act, Miss Tracy Mills, who gives Casey the opportunity to become a drag performer.
Van Reigersberg, who plays Miss Tracy Mills, said taking on the new drag persona was an intriguing undertaking.
“It was an interesting challenge of working on a different kind of drag queen,” he said. “Martha Graham Cracker is a singing drag queen. She works with a band and she’s now 11 years old, which is terrifying. But I was interested in the other kind of drag queen, Tracy Mills. She’s Southern. She’s a lip-syncing drag queen, which is a different art all together. The play is very funny and it also has a real heart underneath it and all that drew me to it. With Pig Iron [Theater Company] and Martha, I’m often making my own work and that has its own challenges. There’s this other challenge when you get this playwright’s script in your hand and you’re like, How do I bring myself to this thing that has already been created? I really appreciate where you’re reading through a script and try to decode what the clues are that can lead you to the correct embodiment of the role as envisioned by the playwright.”
Even though Martha Graham Cracker and Miss Tracy Mills are different kinds of performers, van Reigersberg said they do have some similarities.
“Both characters have big hearts and are sometimes bossy, but in a loving way,” he said. “Tracy Mills becomes this entrepreneur/leader. She picks this bar that’s down and out and turns it around and people start coming to see the drag show. It’s a rags-to-riches story.”
Martha Graham Cracker’s popularity around Philly might add a degree of difficulty to performing as Miss Tracy Mills, van Reigersberg said, though he’s doing his best to distinguish Tracy from Martha.
“That’s always the hope,” he said about audiences leaving behind their notions of Martha. “[Tracy] looks quite different from Martha. She has a different personality and a different way of handling herself. Of course, some parts of Martha might bleed into it but I’m trying to forge something different with this character.”
Among the differences, van Reigersberg will have to shave the body hair audiences have come to associate with Martha.
“Martha is going to look a little more plucked than usual. But that’s OK. She can handle it. Hair will grow back. I had to shave my torso for ‘Hedwig’ and it grew back so I’m not scared. But it will be weird to be shaven that much.”
Miss Tracy Mills isn’t pushing Martha Graham Cracker out of the picture in Philly during the show’s two-month run. Van Reigersberg said Martha will still perform her monthly shows.
“We’ve been able to schedule around the play,” he said. “For the next two months, we’ve changed the night the show falls on so I can do all of it. I’ll be doing my regular L’Etage gig just on a different night in October and November, then we’ll be back to our usual schedule in December.”
Arden Theatre Company presents “The Legend of Georgia McBride” through Nov. 27 at the Arcadia Stage, 40 N. Second St. For more information or tickets, call 215-922-1122 or visit www.ardentheatre.org.