Jamie Morris, master of drag-spoof, washes ashore on ‘Gilligan’s Fire Island’
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Executive Editor
Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful play. The author is a mighty playwright, Jamie Morris. His specialty? The spoof, where he takes a familiar movie (The Silence of the Lambs, Mommie Dearest) or TV show (The Facts of Life, Designing Women), turns his laser wit on the tropes that made the piece memorable in the first place, adds a touch of drag and voila! Instant comedy (with appropriately campy names, such as Mommie Queerest and Re-Designing Women).
It is perhaps not surprising, then, that Morris — who makes his life in Las Vegas with his partner Christopher, a Cirque du Soleil performer — usually begins with the title.
“That goes back to my days in P’town, when you’re trying to hook people on the street into your show,” he explains over a tuna roll at Hypnotic Sushi on Oak Lawn. “They have to think the show is funny before they see it. Then comes the pressure to make it as funny as they expect.”
That’s the situation Morris is dealing with on his latest creation, Gilligan’s Fire Island. Plainly combining the goofy ’60s sitcom with the definite gay resort town, Morris sets the Skipper, Ginger Grant, the Howells “and the rest” at the center of the action, where a new character (a gayboy on holiday) shakes things up with the character we’ve grown to know and love.
d was already in re-runs when Morris first started watching it in the 1970s, but even then, he realized now, he saw the potential for something more.
“I didn’t know it at the time, but I was not watching TV like every other kid in my West Virginia neighborhood,” he says. “I was a character actor at heart even then. My own favorite character from the show is a toss-up between Ginger Grant — based on sheer fabulousness — and Mr. Howell, because as a kid, they were the easiest to mimic.”
Having taken everything from cornpone sitcoms to Oscar-winning feature films as his inspiration, the question for Morris is: Which is better source material — the good, the bad or the ugly?
“Whether trashy or good, it has to have iconic characters,” he says. The young’uns might not be as familiar with specific episodes [of Gilligan’s Island] as they are with the characters.”
Still, the idea for Fire Island started a decade ago, long before he started writing world premieres for Uptown Players. Several people noted that his partner, who conjures Hollywood glamor in Zumanity, bore a resemblance to Tina Louise, who played Ginger. He came up with the title back then. So when Uptown called last summer to see if he had any ideas, he dusted this one off.
“I had the title, but I needed a premise,” Morris laughs. The producers’ only criticism: There wasn’t enough drag. Yes, Ginger and MaryAnn are played (as all female characters are in a Morris play) by men, but Mrs. Howell is actually double cast — the same actor also plays Mr. Howell, which requires lightning fast costume changes.
The advantage to working with Uptown on all these shows — each of which takes place at the Rose Room inside Station 4 — is that Morris now writes not just with local talent in mind, but with the Rose Room stage and even Dallas audiences at the back of his head.
“Four of the cast members I have worked with in the past, and I hoped they would audition and be available, although we did not pre-cast it,” he says. It turned out they did try out, and got the parts conceived around their skill sets. One actor who will not be appearing in the show this time, however, is Morris himself. For his last show, Re-Designing Women two years ago, Morris played the role of Julia Sugarbaker. This time out, he didn’t write a role for himself.
“I suppose when I do it eventually, I’ll play Mr. and Mrs. Howell,” he says. “I keep saying I want to play Gilligan, but I know I’m too old.”
Let’s not say too old — just well-seasoned.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 6, 2015.