A toast to Champagne and her wily Poon

Aug 02

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The marvelous cast of Champagne White and The Temple of Poon includes, from left, James Arthur as Sergio, Matthew Martin as Pixie Pardonne Moi, D’Arcy Drollinger as Champagne White, Nancy French as Debbie, Steven LeMay as Mandy and Adam Roy as Jack Hammer. Below: Hammer and Champagne at the scene of the crime: it’s a frame job, I tell ya! Photos by Gareth Gooch

Just when it seems all the colorful characters are fleeing San Francisco, along comes an Oasis of (fake) tits and glitter. Yes, Oasis, the new South of Market nightclub, has defied the real estate odds and become a haven for performers of all stripes, including impresario D’Arcy Drollinger, a co-owner of the club along with drag legend Heklina and several other partners.

Drollinger has to be one of the most interesting people working in Bay Area theater. He plied his trade in San Francisco for a while before moving to New York, but now he’s back, making theater like a madman and taking full advantage of the fact that he has his very own stage.

Before Oasis beckoned, Drollinger was doing shows like Sex and the City Live (read my review here), Project: Lohan (derived from Lilo’s court transcripts, interviews and news reports) and Shit and Champagne, the tale of Champagne White, a stripper character with roots in ’70s blaxploitation movies, 1940s noir and vaudeville by way of the naughty Catskills.

Happily, Champagne is back for what will undoubtedly be a long line of adventures. This time out, she’s cutting an Indiana Jones-type figure in Champagne White and the Temple of Poon, but before she dons the fedora and slings a whip on her belt, she’ll be framed for murder and spend time behind bars in Lady Prison. She’ll also make the most of a glittering gold bikini, go full Lea DeLaria in prison and lead several chases through the streets of San Francisco – one on a skateboard, the other on a motorcycle. In other words, Champagne, with blond curls as big as her boobs, is bad ass. She’s got some stylish kung fu moves, but she doesn’t seem very able to defend herself from a prison gang or from the henchman of her nemesis, Pixie Pardonne Moi (the renamed, reconfigured villain from the first installment, Dixie Stampede).

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It’s delirious fun, with the charismatic Drollinger writing, directing and starring in two-plus hours of delicious drag delight. It’s no surprise that Drollinger can put together a crowd-pleasing show full of ribaldry and raunch. He’s a smart performer and a deft writer and director. You don’t have to know (or care) anything about theater to laugh at the ongoing jokes about a new perfume, Poussé: Scent of a Woman, or the easy joke about Champagne’s recent marriage to Mr. Juan Spitzer, which makes her Champagne White Juan Spitzer, which, naturally, becomes Champagne White Wine Spritzer.

But what’s really wonderful about Drollinger’s work here is that as a writer and director, he’s deftly combining vaudeville with commedia dell’arte imbued with a drag/camp sensibility that is exactly right for the tone of the show. As a performer, Drollinger is the master of the double take and the eye roll aside to the audience. He’s a superb vaudevillian, and he’s surrounded himself with performers who are equally as good, many of whom appeared alongside him in Shit and Champagne. Chief among them is the redoubtable Matthew Martin as the villainess concocting a perfume from harvested G-spots that turns out to be more of a huffable drug than a fragrance d’amour.

With a high kick that could slice open your forehead, Martin is equal parts Cyd Charisse, Joan Crawford and Keyser Söze. Outfitted in a Liza wig (circa mid-’80s) and stylish outfits (costumes by Tria), Martin’s performance is less a drag turn than a really juicy character part (and his brief appearance as a prison bitch is a hoot) performed by an actor who knows exactly what he’s doing.

The biggest surprise in the wonderful supporting cast is Adam Roy as Detective Jack Hammer and other assorted roles (including a very funny lady prison guard and a hilarious strip club owner). Roy is a deft comedian, a true clown who would seem to know his way around the commedia form – not that the audience should care about that beyond the fact that Roy has a precision and commitment to his roles that make him a key player in this well-crafted goofiness.

Steven LeMay is a sweet-natured drag clown of the highest order, especially in the role of Mandy, a fragrant inmate who captivates Champagne, especially with the aroma of pumpkin spice pot pourri emanating from her nethers. Of course her name inspires one of the show’s brightest, funniest moments, a fully choreographed (by Drollinger) number set to Barry Manilow’s “Mandy.”

James Arthur shines in multiple roles, especially as queeny Serge, Champagne’s BFF, and Nancy French as Debbie, the world’s most blasé stripper, gets laughs just from the look of disgust that crosses her face every time she has the arduous task of doing anything on stage.

It all adds up to a most enjoyable evening – rough around the edges, hit and miss with individual jokes to be sure – full of energy, low-brow humor and the effervescence you’d expect in an intoxicating Champagne cocktail.

[bonus interview]
I talked to D’Arcy Drollinger about Champagne White and the Temple of Poon for a story in the San Francisco Chronicle. Read the feature here.

FOR MORE INFORMATION
D’Arcy Drollinger’s Champagne White and the Temple of Poon continues through Sept. 12 at Oasis, 298 11th St., San Francisco. Tickets are $25-$35. Call 415-795-3180 or visit www.sfoasis.com.

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