FST explores gender and humanity in “The Legend of Georgia McBride”

It was mid-March 2020 and the cast of “The Legend of Georgia McBride” at the Florida Studio Theater had been in rehearsal for a week when FST Director Richard Hopkins called the entire staff and all guest artists to announce the cancellation of the rest. of the season due to the initial COVID outbreak.

“That afternoon was heartbreaking,” director Kate Alexander recalls. “Saying, ‘I hope one day we can put this piece back together’ didn’t really help. At that time, we really didn’t know the future.

Meanwhile, around the same time, Britt Michael Gordon was in tech rehearsal for a production of “Camelot” at the Actors’ Playhouse in Coral Gables, playing the lead role of Arthur. Just before the scheduled St. Patrick’s Day opening, that race was canceled as well, sending Gordon back to his Long Island home.

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Just over two years later, FST’s long-delayed production of ‘Georgia McBride’ will open this week – with Alexander back at the helm and Gordon, making his first return to the stage since the pandemic began, playing the role Casey’s lead in this “fairy tale” about an unlucky Elvis impersonator who is thrown into a drag show, challenging his ideas of gender, identity and family.

Although Alexander wouldn’t go so far as to say the break was good for FST, she thinks the extended delay has created a stronger production, with new music and choreography (Billy D. Hart) added and Gordon replacing the original lead role.

“It’s the kind of piece where it can easily become performative and risk becoming schtick,” says Alexander. “Not wanting to cross that line had put red flags in my mind. I had concerns before, so we had the opportunity to cast the net again.

Britt Michael Gordon as Casey in

Gordon was recommended by FST staff member Rachael Moulton and impressed Alexander and FST Production Art Director Richard Hopkins with everything from his ability to be “absolutely present in the moment” to his genuine accent ( but not native) of the Florida Panhandle.

“Britt was a find, a gem,” says the director. “He had all the sincere and genuine qualities that a leader should have. He went through the audition process and was exactly what we imagined. So we are better off for the wait.

This audition process, which was to include a live callback to New York, was derailed by the surge of the omicron variant, forcing Gordon to audition via video. Her fiancé helped her with her makeup, outfit, and lip-syncing shoot. It helped that he had played the role once before, for a very short time, in a very small theater in Burlington, Vermont. But the nuances of character development are subtly complex, so he seized the opportunity for an overhaul with longer rehearsal and performance periods.

“Casey is so, kind of stuck in his traditional ideas of what gender means to him that drag performances challenge all of that for him,” Gordon says. “He’s starting to dig into a feminine part of himself that he hadn’t explored before and it’s becoming seductive, but he’s a little ashamed of it. Ultimately, he must be honest about his love of this art form, not just to his wife and mentor, but to himself. It is only then that he begins to learn to be a responsible and reliable human being for his friends, family and loved ones.

The tragic death of FST regular Sam Mosler last fall – “another heartbreak”, says Alexander – also necessitated a recasting of his role as Eddie, the Florida bar owner whose business begin to prosper after hiring his cousin, Miss Tracy Mills (Kraig Swartz). Eddie will now be portrayed by frequent FST performer Eric Hoffman. Stanley Martin, as attention-seeking drag queen Rexy (along with Casey’s owner, Jason) and Tatiana Williams, as Casey’s wife, Jo – both part of the original cast – will finally make their debuts long awaited at the FST.

The play continues a long theatrical story of characters taking on the sex of another, says Alexander. She compares it to Dustin Hoffman’s role as Michael Dorsey in the movie “Tootsie,” who ends up telling a male colleague to whom he has just revealed his true gender, “I was a better man with you as a man. as woman as I’ve ever been with a woman as a man.

While the production might seem timed to coincide with certain current events, like the passage of Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill (there’s also a line about Russians that seems oddly prescient), the piece was written in 2014 and Alexander says there was never any intention or desire to politicize its content. He was chosen not for his “stakes”, but because “he speaks to all of us in a very human way”, which is relevant to bridging today’s partisan divide.

“I don’t think anyone in my generation thought we would be more divided,” Alexander says of those who grew up in America in the 60s and 70s. a better future. And to see him back down almost to hate and divide is shocking.

“So this piece isn’t about issues, teaching, or even tolerance. It’s about an experience of joy and acceptance. No one is fixed in the piece, but that’s what a family – loving each other, warts and all. I hope the audience will follow this journey and discover something about themselves.

Contact Carrie Seidman at carrie.seidman@gmail.com or 505-238-0392.

“The Legend of Georgia McBride”

By Matthew Lopez, directed by Kate Alexander. Florida Studio Theater, from April 6 to May 22. Tickets : floridastudiotheatre.org; 941-366-9000

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