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'First Lady?' allows drag diva to sparkle and shine

Playwright David Krom a.k.a. De De DeVille undertakes the starring role in his self penned new play, “First Lady?” at the Fishtank Performance Studio.  Directed by Phil Kinen, “First Lady?” features Victoria Hoffman and Jeff Smith.
Playwright David Krom a.k.a. De De DeVille undertakes the starring role in his self penned new play, “First Lady?” at the Fishtank Performance Studio. Directed by Phil Kinen, “First Lady?” features Victoria Hoffman and Jeff Smith.
Chris Nelson and Courtesy of The Fishtank Performance Studio and De De DeVille

"First Lady?"

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Change comes when least expected, but a drag queen as First Lady ushers in change certainly not expected as told by a new playwright, David Krom, with his first piece, “First Lady?” that debuted Saturday, May 3 at The Fishtank Performance Studio--a small venue that develops new works in the Kansas City theater scene.

"First Lady?" currently runs at The Fishtank Performance Studio in Kansas City, Mo.
"First Lady?" currently runs at The Fishtank Performance Studio in Kansas City, Mo.
Ann K. Brown Photography and Courtesy of The Fishtank Performance Studio

A century ago no one expected a Black man to ever win the Presidency, but as times continue to evolve, diversity takes the nation to unexplored crests and pushes fresh thinking. So, in the not-so-distant future perhaps a gay couple would occupy the White House as conceived in Krom’s new play. Krom a self proclaimed “Drag Queen” and performer for the past 25 years stretches his wings with his first attempt at play writing.

Expect great things from Krom as the play is a winner from start to finish. “First Lady?” brings the laughs from the beginning as Jeff Smith opens the show as a Secret Service Agent coming into a hotel room to check and to ensure the safety prior to the First Lady’s arrival. No real dialogue for Smith as Blaire the agent, but stage presence and physical comedy help set the tone for the entrance of De De DeVille as Diedre Russell, the First Lady.

Even though Krom, known also by his other persona, De De DeVille, a local drag performer, penned the new piece, designed and created the costumes, designed and built the sets, and also starred in the play, he/she did turn over directorial duties to Phil Kinen.

The story of “First Lady?” brings in one other character, a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, Christine Chambers, played by Victoria Hoffman, to interview the First Lady for a piece for Chambers’ publication. Bad blood from repeated anti-President articles causes her to wonder why, of all people, she would be selected to be the only reporter to have access to the First Lady after four years of no press or interviews.

The play explores a future time when, through a series of both planned and unplanned events, a gay couple dwells in The White House. One half of that couple is also a drag queen performer and takes on the role of a lifetime: the First Lady of the United States. Krom/DeVille portrays Deirdre Russell, the First Lady.

"Imagine how a small-town boy from Kansas ended up in the White House in four-inch spiked heels,” DeVille, who plays the title character, said. "Basically we're tackling the fictionalized concept of how a gay couple ended up accidentally becoming the President and First Lady.

"The political rise of my husband is a big part of the story," DeVille said. "We ultimately get on the ticket as Vice President, and we win, but then the President-elect has a heart attack and dies. So suddenly, I find myself as First Lady of this great land."

Laughs ensue from the beginning. The first part features DeVille and Smith. Both know how to play comedy and do it well. DeVille wears the role like she owns it–which she does. From her first entrance she’s spot-on and believable as the First Lady. Smith collects laughs as he works his way through the first scene awaiting DeVille’s entrance. After that, the scenes with DeVille and Smith are pure comedy.

The balance of the show deals with the interview between Hoffman and DeVille. Hoffman’s solid stage presence is the right counter-balance for DeVille. With DeVille in her “conservative” red and blue, Hoffman’s dark hair and black suit anchor her character as a no-nonsense reporter in quest of a story. DeVille’s First Lady chose this particular reporter for a reason. DeVille’s charm as First Lady lures the reporter into a snare, and she coyly awaits until the President snaps it shut.

“First Lady?” takes a political stance and lampoons some of the politicians past and present with some light jabs without becoming offensive to any party affiliation. Still the message goes from very light hearted to a serious piece, though not high drama. It’s definitely a comedy with a purpose. The play will entertain the most right-wing Tea Partiest as well as the most extremely left-wing Democrat.

The three performers are wonderful in their characters and the direction by Kinen works well for the piece–not a bad performance among them. All possess wonderful stage presence. Smith and Hoffman, clad in black allow the sequins and flash of DeVille to sparkle even more. And, face it, she’s a drag queen, she deserves to sparkle and shine. She does.

Krom said he was able to bring the project to life in part through a Rocket Grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation with sponsorship from the Charlotte Street Foundation and The Spencer Museum of Art.

Expect to see and hear more about “First Lady?” This is a show that will grow eyes and legs. It’s worthy of bigger venues and bigger audiences. Krom said that he still wants to polish and trim the show to get it to a shorter version, and that will happen. This is a piece that could make a statement and head to New York. It’s got that much promise.

Heidi Van, curator/owner/operator of The Fishtank Performance Studio seemed especially pleased with the production. Van beamed as she explained that her vision of The Fishtank blossoms when such shows develop there. Van was obviously pleased with “First Lady?” and her enthusiasm showed on opening night. She recognizes the potential of the production.

"There is a lot of assistance out there for budding artists if you just do some research," Krom said. "There is funding and facilities, like the Fishtank, available to nurture new and experimental work, so if you have an idea, go after it."

DeVille is an experienced drag performer and has been seen in multiple theatrical productions (including Late Night Theatre) throughout the Kansas City Theater scene. DeVille's most recent performance was as Mrs. Chauvenet in “Harvey” at the New Theatre Restaurant, where DeVille shared the stage with television actor Charles Shaughnessy, most notably known from The Nanny TV series.

"De De DeVille delivers a smart glimpse into an alternate White House and a First Lady who shaves her face as well as her legs," Shaughnessy said. "With twists and turns, this ‘fireside chat' delivers an intriguing look at what could be a White House of the near future."

"First Lady?" runs weekends through May 25 at the Fishtank Performance Studio, 1715 Wyandotte St., Kansas City, Mo. Friday and Saturday shows are at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees are at 5 p.m.

The Fishtank Performance Studio develops new work by providing a low-risk, low-cost environment that nurtures the development of new works and inspires theatrical entrepreneurship. More information and tickets are available at The fishtanktheater.com or by calling the theater, 816-809-7110.