Divine was the filthiest drag queen to ever live, and Lady Diamond is to be commended for taking on such a challenging, shit-eating role. In addition to this, they should be even more applauded for avoiding the need to reference that character-defining moment.. one that is all too often singularly cited and exploited.
It’s obvious from the outset that the subject has been researched to an exceptionally thorough degree, and it’s safe to assume that the performer is a genuine fan. The sheer volume of information presented is quite astounding, and although it could have done with an extra round on the editing table, the show is suitable for fellow Dreamlander wannabes and Divine newbies alike.
Within the first two minutes, we are warned that any expectations of vulgarity and heckling will be dashed. And although I found myself slightly disappointed at the lack of trademark abuse I hoped was coming my way, there were some brief glimpses of the performer’s ability to improvise and interact with the audience in a genuine manner that very well left us wanting more.
In this setting, the story of Glenn Milstead (aka Divine) is one that is told in the first person, and with a retrospectively linear format. The performance has a strong narrative, although somewhat distractingly punctuated with the aid of a script. But never fear; the “Story of My Life” folder is bejewelled, so we can’t be too mad at it’s presence.
If you come to this show expecting to experience a bad singer, you’re in for a shock. Lady Diamond’s voice has a far more musical disposition than anything I’ve ever heard spew forth from the scraping, rasping larynx of Divine. That being said if you’re expecting an especially good vocal performance… what are you even doing here?
I also suspect the star of the show to be a rather beautiful physical performer, and despite moments of (perhaps intentional) awkwardness, there are other more captivating moments where they truly lose themselves in song – entrancing the audience and catapulting us into the depths of a skeezy Baltimore dive bar.
Speaking of songs, the choice of numbers is an absolute stand out. I won’t spoil any surprises for you, but the treats are in high supply with everything from early 60’s sexual innuendo pop hits, to contemporary feminist disco anthems. Diamond even makes mention of hidden references within the songs/song choices themselves – and this is something I would love to have known more about. Perhaps even just in the form of a small souvenir program containing a song list… a mystery for my detective skills to later unravel.
Most of these songs were accompanied by a young gentleman on the keys, who, despite being a tasty side order does unfortunately spend a chunk of time propped in the back corner failing to convince anyone that he hasn’t already heard this routine approximately 162 times. Although the show could have benefited from another week in rehearsals, the keyboardist, on the other hand, could’ve benefited from a week less. Or perhaps just a stronger show integration to maintain morale and improve on-stage dynamics.
If I ever achieve my bucket list ambition of receiving an invitation to a John Waters’ Christmas Party, I will be sure to ask him if Glenn was really as physically insecure and repulsed by his own body as this performance would have us believe. Until then, I’m unable to comment on the accuracy of this depiction.
However, I will say that my experience as a fat woman watching a non-fat man playing a fat man dressed as a fat woman left me generally as uneasy as the grotesquely comic size and positioning of the disproportionately padded fat roll around Lady Diamond’s middle. If there’s one thing I do know, Divine (the character) was funny in addition to being fat – not because of it.
Lastly, I must point out that one of the biggest coups of the show is adhering to an implicitly DIY vibe that only strengthens the overarching punk trash aesthetic that Divine not only subscribed to, but pioneered. Some people want to polish stones until they turn into diamonds. This show only made it so far as a rhinestone, but I genuinely think Divine would approve of it.