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Behind the Scenes With the Drama Queens

Scene 1

One-hour call backstage at the Westbeth Theater. Eight actors from the Tweed

Fractured Classicks Series sit at mirrors in their communal dressing room making up for tonight's performance of 'Imitation of Imitation of Life,' director Kevin Malony's shrewd, arch, sidesplitting burlesque of a classic Lana Turner B-movie weepie about ruthless ambition, demented mother love, and the anguish of racial 'passing.' Cast:

Jodi Lennon (left) and Jackie Hoffman: "The real challenge is winning the audience over to a biological girl."
photo: Sylvia Plachy
Jodi Lennon (left) and Jackie Hoffman: "The real challenge is winning the audience over to a biological girl."

John Epperson a/k/a Lypsinka, Flotilla DeBarge, Jackie Hoffman, Jodi Lennon, Flloyd, Brenda Bergman, Mark Gentsch, Steve Hasley. Plus Dot the dog.

JACKIE HOFFMAN (rubber-faced, rubber-voiced actor-comedian, ex-Second City; ex-cabaret; ex-one-woman shows during 15-year-career Off-Off), applying Tan Number 2 makeup for her role as Flotilla DeBarge's "colored" daughter: "I'm a Queens girl originally—Bayside, yeshivas, but you could never tell. I went to Tisch School of the Arts, then I worked at Second City in Chicago for eight years—we wrote all our own material in that joint—and I've worked with Amy and David Sedaris, won best actress in a revue, closed the last weekend at Eighty-Eight's, did Tweed's Bad Seedling and The Children's Hour with Lypsinka and Charles Busch, so you can see I've worked with drag queens and the odd diva before. Not that it's a problem. I can handle it. I can be as big a bitch as anyone."

LYPSINKA (legendary drag performance artist)—wigless, wearing kimono and down booties: "How many hours of my life have I spent getting in and out of makeup? I don't even want to think about it. It's too depressing."

LOUIS BRAUN (makeup artist)—applying two-inch false eyelashes to Lypsinka: "This is a very natural, unconstructed look."

JACKIE HOFFMAN: "Totallynatural, honey. It's Cover Girl for day. The thing about Lypsinka getting into makeup is, it's not like if you blink you miss it. If you took a three-hour nap maybe you might miss it."

LYPSINKA: "I'm trying to become an alluring creature, darling. Did you ever see the Howard Stern where they put a hidden camera behind the makeup mirror when Zsa Zsa Gabor was on? They sent in the guy who stutters and he said, 'M-m-m-miss G-g-g-gabor, I j-j-j-ust want to know what you need.' She said, 'I vant to be lit and I vant to be lit vell!' Then they sent in someone else who asked the same question and she said, 'I vant to be lit and I vant to be lit vell!' Finally they sent in the wardrobe assistant, who was dragging the dress on the floor, and Zsa Zsa lost it. They got the whole thing on camera. But there was nothing she could do. She'd signed a release."

JACKIE HOFFMAN: "Louis is John's personal makeup artist. But he takes pity on the rest of us."

LOUIS BRAUN: "For Jackie, I use a tan foundation to get that light ethnic thing happening."

LYPSINKA: "It's very Ava Gardner in Show Boat—light Egyptian."

JACKIE HOFFMAN: "Yeah, my character's a mulatto—Mint Mulatto by Pepperidge Farm. Hey, Louis, have you seen my pickaninny wig?"

LYPSINKA: "Louis is makeup, honey."

JACKIE HOFFMAN: "Oh, sorry. Louis is the face homo. I want my wig homo. Where's Jeremy?"

LYPSINKA: "Did anyone notice that the follow spot didn't work on me last night? And Jackie, your mother got up and put on her coat during my curtain speech."

JACKIE HOFFMAN: "What curtain speech?"

LYPSINKA: "The one where I mention that we've added a performance."

FLOTILLA DEBARGE: "Is that what that was? Then, honey, tonight I'm gonna make a curtain speech for Black History Month."

SCENE 2

Half-hour call.

JACKIE HOFFMAN: "Look at these flowers that just arrived for Jodi and John and Steve."

JODI LENNON: "Who are they from?"

LYPSINKA: "The people we made that movie, The Finger Lakes, for."

JODI LENNON, opening plastic Hefty bag filled with lilies and roses: "They're beautiful."

JACKIE HOFFMAN: "Wedon't get any flowers."

LYPSINKA: "They're for the people who were in the movie."

JACKIE HOFFMAN, stage whispering to visitor: "Just put down that the black family didn't get any flowers."

LYPSINKA: "Hon, just enjoy the flow and don't be so bitter."

SCENE 3

Fifteen-minute call.

LYPSINKA: ''When I started out back in the East Village, at the Pyramid, I didn't know exactly what it was that I was doing. The whole lip-synching thing was postmodern, but I didn't know what that meant. I was doing it to be what I thought was glamorous. Eventually, when my own psychotherapy kicked in, the Lypsinka character got more theatrically evolved. You know, drag is a trap and lip-synching is a trap within a trap. I used to go to parties and people would not think I could say anything. They thought I couldn't talk without a tape. So I've changed. I figured I had to start talking. I also learned what postmodern meant."

JACKIE HOFFMAN: "The real challenge here is being as broad as I am comedically and keeping the moment real. That and winning the audience over to a biological girl."

FLOTILLA DEBARGE: "Honey, is that what you are?"

SCENE 4

Five-minute call.

BRENDA BERGMAN: "Don't I look like Dietrich in this makeup?"

JEREMY TCHUNG, hairdresser, spraying a rat-tail comb: "No."

FLLOYD:"Did you guys see that Fox show where they capture people on secret video? They had a guy who worked in a piñata factory and they captured him fucking a piñata. It was on the family hour!"

BRENDA BERGMAN: "I love that."

FLLOYD: "The guy said, 'It enticed me.' "

JODI LENNON: "Imagine when they open it up. Like, 'What's in thisone?' "

FLOTILLA DEBARGE, sitting at makeup table in bra with no padding, stocking cap, and knee length skirt: "I don't have my tits on yet. I don't have my wig. I'm a mess. Jeremy better get his ass over here soon. We can talk while I wait. I'm originally from downtown Brooklyn. My family's from Florence, South Carolina. I started out in the East Village at the Pyramid and P.S. 122 and Boy Bar. I always wanted to be an actor or a singer since my mother took me to Radio City Music Hall as a kid. I didn't know how to go about it. I tried going into the corporate business world. Then, when my grandfather was 85 and dying, he told me to follow my dream. So I immediately stopped going to Baruch College and invented Flotilla DeBarge. I always thought Flotilla was such a good name. I'm not a thin man. I'm more larger than life. I'm not an -etteor an -ina. Plus I always loved the musical group DeBarge. So I was sitting in Battery Park City one day and a barge went by and then it just came to me—Flotilla DeBarge."

SCENE 5

Seconds before places. Unearthly moans are heard outside the dressing room.

LYPSINKA: "What's that noise?"

JODI LENNON: "That's just Jackie doing her queer actress exercises."

JACKIE HOFFMAN, appearing at dressing room door: "Guys, come quick. You just missed Mark grabbing his scrotum."

JODI LENNON, lacquering her blond pigtails with hair spray: "Am I nervous? Yes. Definitely. It's nice to be nervous. It's scary when you're not. Especially when it's a big house. Hey, is my wig anchored? Is the hair on straight? Oh, I'm so high right now from this Aqua Net."

JACKIE HOFFMAN: "Guys, Jodi's drunk again."

STAGE MANAGER: "Ladies and gentlemen."

JACKIE HOFFMAN: "CAST HUG!"

Cast hugs.

DIRECTOR KEVIN MALONY: "Go out and rock 'em sock 'em robots."

LYPSINKA: "Did Isabella make it? Isabella Rossellini? Does she have good seats?"

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