The original La Cage aux Folles was a French farce written in 1973 by Jean Poiret. It was adapted to a film five years later, then into a musical version five years after that. Many folks who aren't familiar with title might better know the story through the vantage point of the successful 1996 American film remake. The Birdcage (starring such famous names like Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, Gene Hackman, Christine Baranski, and Calista Flockhart), opened at #1 on the US box office charts and stayed there for three weeks before continuing on as a favorite guilty pleasure among video rental houses (r.i.p.) and streaming sites alike.
All versions of the story have the same basic plot: A night club owner and his fabulously flamboyant life-partner embark on a crazy journey when they receive word that their heterosexual son is bringing home his new fiancé's very conservative, very religious, very powerful in-laws-to-be. Chaos ensues with, as Desson Thomson from The Washington Post describes it, "eyeliner to one-liners."
One might like to think the world has advanced far enough from the social politics of the 70's and 80's (and even the 90's) to hope a show like La Cage is no longer topical. Unfortunately, in a society where gay youth still disproportionately experience homelessness, where trans women continue to be killed at alarming rates, and where the president of the United States continues to roll back LGBTQIA rights, the script remains just as necessary for American audiences to ingest as it was thirty years ago.
Damen Pardo, who has performed in drag multiple times at Fools events, is very at home in his role as a "Cagelle" (one of the drag queens) in this cast. "In a culture that still undervalues different types of non-traditional family dynamics, this show presents that conflict against tradition in a comedic way that is still able to tug at your heart strings," he says. "I think it might be a thing where many people in the audience will find themselves thinking of family in a new way, maybe even for the first time."
Fool Michael C. Flores, another one the SWF production's Cagelles, agrees. "Sometimes family isn’t always what you’re born with, especially in the LGBTQ+ community. Underneath the feathers and glitter of this show, there’s an important lesson of pride and acceptance that still needs to be told."
Flores says that building non-traditional family is just as much a behind-the-scenes theme as the story itself. "My favorite part about being in the cast is the bond I’ve made with my fellow Cagelles," he says. "Prepping for drag is kind of a vulnerable thing to do, and we’ve all helped each other along the way. "
For someone like Pardo, who often performs as his alter-ego Harley Sinn, being in a theatrical production of a drag show has been different from performing in a regular drag show, in the best kind of way. "As a working drag queen, I've never been so catered to!" he says, with delight. "I'm usually the one doing everything myself but here I have someone picking out my costumes, helping with my make-up, helping with my wig. People are constantly asking for my advice, which I do give happily, but it's nice to all feel a little taken care of, too."
La Cage opens tonight (July 26th) and runs until August 11 at the Dan Pessano Theatre at Clovis North High School campus. Other Fools in the production include Terry Lewis and Joel Abels, alongside many other dear and talented community members.
Visit StageWorks Fresno's website for more information or to purchase tickets. Get them quickly, though. Opening weekend is already sold out!
***We want to do a better job highlighting the great work our members do out in the community, even when they're not singing or acting or foolin' around with us. As such, we're starting a blog series called "Fools In:" that features commentary, behind the scenes photos, and other inside information, delivered to you straight from Fools participating in upcoming local productions and events.***
Hypo-Theatricals founder and executive director, Dakota Simpson, leads several Fools (including himself) in the upcoming production of The Government Inspector at Cal Arts Severance in the Tower District. Promotional material describes the play as "a wild, farcical romp through dim-witted Russia." Other Fools involved in the show include S'willers Randy Kohlruss and Justin Ray, along with Damen Pardo, who is the world's best Sinnta (that's a Harley Sinn Santa reference, for those of you who missed out on last year's Joyful Noise cabaret). Other cast members include Michael Brandon Fidalgo, Will MacDonald, Scott Champan, Jesse Parr, Hannah Weyant, Brittany Zenz Toschi, Laura Hay, and Alexis Macedo.
We chatted with Simpson about his reason's for picking the play and his experience working with this particular cast and creative team.
So, tell us about the plot.
The corrupt officials of a small Russian town, headed by the Mayor, react with terror to the news that an incognito inspector will soon be arriving in their town to investigate them. The flurry of activity to cover up their considerable misdeeds is interrupted by the report that a suspicious person has arrived two weeks previously from Saint Petersburg and is staying at the inn.
What is/are your role(s) for this production?
I'm the director and I play the The Doctor and Penteleyvy.
Why bring this particular show to town?
I chose The Government Inspector because, looking around the Valley, people are trying to provoke audiences with fierce drama and fierce family dynamics and fierce fighting of racial prejudice... but there's no fierce farce to be found. One of the oldest forms of theatre that can talk about all these issues in the world, and no one wants to take it on.
What's your favorite part of the production?
My favorite part of the show is falling in love with how new and fresh it feels every night we perform this piece.
What have you learned from this experience?
I learned a lot about ensemble theatre and in approaching this I tried to delve deep into movement, tableaux, devised theatre and just building a hive brain within the company.
What do you think audiences will enjoy most about the production?
I think audiences will appreciate seeing some new faces in town. A lot of these actors perform in college shows or in Selma (and we've brought some out of hiding), so I think it will be nice to see a fresh group of hilarious actors in the community. This show is such a powerful piece to me because not only is it well crafted comedy, but it touches on the deep parts that make us human. It is very much a piece about absolute power and mans' lust for it.
The Government Inspector opens tonight (May 23rd) at 8:00 PM. Tickets are $15 General admission, with $5 discounts for students, seniors, and military members. The show runs this weekend for four performances only, and closes on Sunday with an evening show. For more information on purchasing tickets, visit the show's brown paper ticket link, here. The company also accepts cash, Venmo, and Cash app at the door.
All Cal Arts Cyndle Cee Dakota Simpson Damen Pardo Fools In Government Inspector HypoTheatricals Joel Abels Juan Luis Guzman Justin Ray La Cage Aux Folles Michael C. Flores Randy Kohlruss Rodolfo Robles Cruz Selma Arts Center Severance Sinnta StageWorks Fresno Terry Lewis Wait Until Dark