By Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant
Kick off your “Kinky Boots” and say, “Heyyy!” to the new drag divas in town. Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “Wig Out!” is an unapologetic and unflinching look at boys who like to dress as girls.
It’s a drag show with theatrical overtones. All of the Shakespearean tropes are there; warring houses, star-crossed lovers, monologues and asides. There is even a Greek chorus comprised of three amazing young women (Krista Antonacci, Arica Jackson and Amber Jones) with angelic voices.
It starts as your typical boy meets boy-dressed-as-a-girl story. Wilson/ Ms. Nina (Justin Lonesome) meets Eric (Jordon Bolden) on a train car in New York City. The Fates Three (the aforementioned Antonacci, Jackson and Jones) narrate their meet-cute.
Eric is the odd man out. He must navigate brand new territory as the masc-for-masc man-boy falls for a butch/femme drag diva. He plunges in deep, falling hard for the Wilson side, but has difficulty with his/her Ms. Nina side.
Meanwhile, at the House of Light, House Mother Rey-Rey (Jordan Phillips) is invited to the Cinderella Ball being held by their rivals, the House of Diabolique. At the ball, the queens compete in a series of drag Olympics; such house battles among drag queens have been popular in the drag world for decades. Picture “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” kicked up several notches.
There are a couple of subplots. Deity (LaTrea Rembert) is in love with Venus (Freddy Miyares). Venus wants more equanimity in bed, and Deity is unable to flip his position (literally and figuratively!).
There are two distinct villains in “Wig Out,” one from within; Lucian (Jerreme Rodriguez), and one from without; Serena (Connor McCanlus). Lucian is a chaos-wreaking hormone, hitting on anything that breathes, causing strife among nascent lovers. Serena, however, is the big bad. Wario to Rey-Rey’s Mario.
At the top of the second act, Serena riffs with the audience while dressed as a glow-in-the-dark version of Ursula, the sea witch. On preview night, she lambasted a group of young women for returning to their seats a little late. McCanlus was born for this sort of role, using his vast knowledge of drag and his improvisational skills.
The cast is capital ‘F’ Fabulous. Bolden’s Eric is charismatic lead and Lonesome if terrific. The aforementioned Fates Three are a joy to watch. Miyares and Rembert have some great moments together.
There is a fierce hip-hop dance battle between Venus, dressed as a boy, and Loki (Jared Smith). There is dancing, singing at a lot of fun going on. “Wig Out” doesn’t meander. Tome Cousin’s kinetic, frenetic directing keeps everything moving at a rapid pace, but the show is light on plot and heavy on extravaganza.
Costume Designer Robert C. T. Steele is a true star of “Wig Out” creating beautiful drag ensembles. Shout out to Andrew Ostrowski’s lighting and Britton Mauk’s set.
Note that “Wig Out” has strong sexual situations and may not be suitable for younger viewers. However, Pittsburgh needs a show like “Wig Out.” In a very white theater scene, it’s refreshing to have a fully diverse cast where the African Americans and the LGBTQ community outnumber the heterosexual white males. If you’re looking for something different, “Wig Out” is the show for you.
(“Wig Out” runs from September 9 to September 25 at The Rep Professional Theatre Company at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, 222 Craft Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213. For more information, click here.)