A dude in a dress

Posted on 26 Apr 2012 at 6:10pm

For Jamie Morris, Uptown Players’ go-to campy playwright, theater’s a drag

JODIE, JODIE, JODIE | FBI agent Clarice Startling (Austin Tindle, front) teams with mad Dr. Hannibal Lichter (Mathew Butler, center) in Uptown Players’ newest Rose Room parody ‘The Silence of the Clams,’ from writer Jamie Morris, opposite. (Production photo courtesy Mike Morgan)

JODIE, JODIE, JODIE | FBI agent Clarice Startling (Austin Tindle, front) teams with mad Dr. Hannibal Lichter (Mathew Butler, center) in Uptown Players’ newest Rose Room parody ‘The Silence of the Clams,’ from writer Jamie Morris, opposite. (Production photo courtesy Mike Morgan)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor

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SILENCE OF THE CLAMS
The Rose Room inside
Station 4, 3911 Cedar Springs Road. April 27–May 20. $20–$25.
UptownPlayers.org

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Jamie Morris has, along with Charles Busch, become the unofficial house playwright for Uptown Players. And like Busch, his work is a real drag. Morris has only written three solo plays, and as of this week, Uptown will have produced all of them: First the drag parody The Facts of Life: The Lost Episode, then Mommie Queerest and now, The Silence of the Clams, which plays at the Rose Room starting Friday.

Clams is exactly what it sounds like: A send-up of the Jodie Foster film, it about Clarice Startling, a tough female FBI agent (played in this production — as in all of them — by a man, Austin Tindle) who sets out to catch the killer Beaver Bob with the help of evil genius Hannibal Lichter — pronounced “Licked Her.” (Yeah, it’s that kind of show.)

While Morris admits his plays have all specified men in drag for most of the roles, it’s not actually necessary for every production. If someone wanted to cast a woman in one of his shows, that might work, too.

“I would be fine with that, if the casting was right, but I do think drag gives it an extra punch,” he says. “Joan [in Mommie Queerest] has to be a man. But four girls and Mrs. Garrett [in Facts of Life] as men is just funny. Half the work is done when they come out onstage. I’m working on a play right now where only one of seven characters is in drag. But for Clarice to be a dude in a dress is funny.”

Morris certainly possesses a great sounding board in his partner, Christopher Kenney, a drag performer who headlines Cirque du Soleil: Zumanity in Las Vegas. But Kenney wasn’t the inspiration for Morris’ interest in drag — almost the opposite.

“We’ve been together 13 years, but when we first met, he was hesitant to tell me he did drag,” Morris says. “But I had written with my writing partner a play about drag characters from the South, so I got it — it’s very theatrical. Drag is just a costume, just like for any character you play.”
In fact, Morris and his writing partner were portraying the drag characters they had written — it was easier than casting.

“When Christopher came along, we were doing the third version of the play,” Morris says. “He gave us pointers on the look and how to do it better. He definitely elevated us. We were two dudes in a dress until then.”

Since then, Kenney has directed all of Morris’ plays — at least when they produce them. “He does more than just work the look — he’s a great stager and very good with character work. When I’m in a show, I don’t want to direct it and I trust him. I’m an actor at heart.”

Perhaps it’s the actor background that helped him come up with the scripts for these diverse shows. Facts was entirely original material, and written before complete episodes of the TV series were available on video or even YouTube — he wrote it “completely from memory from my childhood.”

Mommie Queerest is different, sticking pretty close to the Faye Dunaway camp classic. “You have to have all those famous Joan lines, or the boys will destroy you,” he says. Clams is somewhere in between.

“It’s a very edited version of the movie,” Morris says. “Scenarios are different, but there are scenes that don’t exist in the movie that play with Jodie’s lesbianism.”

It’s also the least obvious choice to parody — and even Morris isn’t sure why he wrote it.

“I go in and out of ideas all the time. I don’t know why I chose Silence of the Lambs. It’s one of my favorite movies, of course. I was writing for Provincetown one summer and I had two ideas in my head: This and a parody of Thelma & Louise with Lucy and Ethel. Everyone kept saying, ‘Do Lambs.’ Now, when I watch the movie on TV, I hear the Clams lines in my head rather than Lambs lines.”

The well is not bottomless, though. Clams represents Morris’ last completed, produceable play for Uptown Players — though he hopes to change that.

“I am working on a few and I would love to have a world premiere at Uptown. They’ve been so great, and I know so much of the talent down there, I’d love to write something specifically for them, to have that in my head when I write. Maybe for next season.”
Just no wire hangers — ever!

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 29, 2012.

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