In 1986, the artistic director of the NYC boho darling group The Ridiculous Theater Company put a drag spin on the Dickens tale in his one-man play of the same name. This Tale of Two Cities, being revived by Un-hinged Productions this month, follows Jerry, a newbie drag queen who, already frantic about his first show, gets his wig in a wad when he discovers a baby on his doorstep. "He's a straight baby, but we can coexist," Jerry assures the audience. The baby, played by a puppet, won't stop crying, and Jerry resorts to playing out the entire story of A Tale of Two Cities all by himself to soothe the little terror. It works, and so do the over-the-top laughs.
"You're in this drag queen's apartment, and so everything in it is used to tell the story of A Tale of Two Cities," says director Linus Craig, who saw the original off-Broadway production 17 years ago. "So instead of using a knife to threaten a guard, he uses a stiletto heel. And there's the absurdity of telling a story in which thousands of people storm the Bastille being told by one." In the end, Jerry plays 22 different characters for the baby and the audience. "It's one long, progressive costume change," says Craig. "All the artifice on actors that usually comes on stage fully formed the dressing, the makeup you get to see all that in its creation. You need an incredibly brave actor."
Fortunately, Kenn McLaughlin, who's playing Jerry, is very, very brave. When the original lead walked out on the show just two weeks before opening, McLaughlin, the managing director of Stages Repertory Theatre, volunteered. (Never mind that he hadn't been on a stage in years, and that he's not exactly an actor.) McLaughlin learned the script in one week. "And it's not just any script," adds Craig. "It's Dickens." You can't help but root for a guy who mastered 22 characters in seven days. And watching a suit throw on women's clothing should be a hoot and a refreshing change for McLaughlin. "Oh, yeah, it'll be fun for him to get out of a suit and tie," Craig says with a laugh, "even if it means putting on a dress."
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Starts: Jan. 6. Continues through Jan. 29