Hot Coco spices up Golden Girls in 18th year

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ABOVE: The cast of The Golden Girls Live: The Christmas Episodes at the Victoria Theatre includes (from left) Coco Peru as Dorothy, Holotta Tymes as Sophia, D’Arcy Drollinger as Rose and Matthew Martin as Blanche. BELOW: Martin, Peru, Tymes and Drollinger catch up on their People reading. Photos by Gareth Gooch

This time of year you have your Christmas Carols and your Nutcrackers. Here in San Francisco we have those, but we also have our own traditions. Now in its 18th year, The Golden Girls Live: The Christmas Episodes is one of our homegrown best.

This year’s installment at the Victoria Theatre comes with a tinge of sadness. This is the first production without the late, great Heklina, one of the driving forces behind the show and also one its stars. She played Dorothy Zbornak, the role created in the original TV sereis by Bea Arthur. So who to fill those large (in every sense) shoes?

That’s where the good news comes in. Drag legend and comedy dynamo Miss Coco Peru is now playing Dorothy, and she is superb. It probably helps that Coco was friends with Heklina and Bea Arthur, but she brings her own deft comic timing and inimitable stage presence to the part and absolutely shines. Dry and droll and funny as hell, Coco is the golden gift we all need this holiday season.

Another highly enjoyable aspect of this holiday outing – two episodes from the long-running series, this year they are “From Here to the Pharmacy” from 1991 and “Goodbye Mr. Gordon” from 1992 – is the wildly different styles of the performers. D’Arcy Drollinger (San Francisco’s first drag laureate, thank you very much) directs and co-stars as Rose Nyland (the Betty White) part, and the acting style could best be described as shameless mugging – and it’s hilarious.

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Holotta Tymes is Sophia Petrillo, Dorothy’s mother, and Tymes is so spot-on in the re-creation of Estelle Getty’s indelible characterization that it’s almost like we’re seeing the real thing. And then there’s Matthew Martin, long one of San Francisco’s treasures, as Blanche Devereaux. He takes a little of original star Rue McClanahan and amps up the character with sexpot elements borrowed from every great movie star diva from the 1940s.

The star performers – the Girls, if you will – are experts at squeezing laughs from the sitcom script, but they also seem to be having a ball, laughing at each other and encouraging boisterous audience response. It also helps that the scripts themselves can be laugh-out-loud funny. Some of Dorothy’s lines, especially as delivered by the delectable Coco, are devastatingly funny. My favorite from the first act is, “I’ll say hail Marys until Madonna has a hit movie.” That’s followed closely by Sophia saying she’s saving money for her old age, to which Dorothy gasps, “Old age? You don’t leave fingerprints anymore!”

As in previous years, during the transition moments when there would be commercials on the show, the live version hands the stage over to Tom Shaw for rousing holiday sing-alongs. The raucous songs combined with flowing cocktails from the bar (in the lobby and in the theater before the show and during intermission) gives the even the feel of a Christmas party on the verge of exploding. For my money, this time of year if you’re searching for festivity, that’s just the kind of place you want to be. Thank you for being a friend, indeed.

The Golden Girls: The Christmas Episodes continues through Dec. 23 at the Victora Theatre, 2961 16th St., San Francisco. Tickets are $40-$75. Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes. Visit for tickets and info.

A toast to Champagne and her wily Poon

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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.

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

Thar she blows! Matthew Martin dresses up `Moby Dick!’

[PLEASE NOTE: Moby Dick! The Musical has been extended through Oct. 19]

You can bet that Matthew Martin has the greatest gams on the Pequod.

Martin, the San Francisco drag superstar, is having a whale of a time heading the cast of Theatre Rhinoceros’ season-opening Moby Dick! The Musical.

He’s playing Headmistress Hymen, whose school, St. Godley’s Academy for Young Ladies, is about to go bankrupt. So, in true musical theater fashion (think Nunsense), she and her girls stage a musical version of Melville’s Moby Dick to raise some much needed funds. Headmistress, of course, takes on the role of Capt. Ahab.

“I’m playing Headmistress Hymen as a blend of Maggie Smith, Judi Dench and Glynis Johns,” Martin says over coffee and cigarettes in the Hayes Valley Victorian he shares with roommate (and co-star) Mike Finn. “And as Ahab, I’m drawing on Gregory Peck in the John Houston movie.”

Lest you think Martin is exercising his heavy-duty thespian muscles, he emphasizes that Moby Dick! is a comedy in the largest sense.

“It’s Shtickville, U.S.A.,” he says. “There are spit takes and everything. I like it. I’m not above a lowbrow joke. It’s one dick joke after another.”

Created in the early ’90s by Brits Robert Longden, Martin Koch and Hereward Kaye, Moby Dick! was noticed by super-producer Cameron Mackintosh, who booked it into a new studio theater in Oxford, where it became a cult hit. Against the advice of his colleagues, Mackintosh transferred the show to London, where the whale went belly up.

At Theatre Rhino, Moby Dick! is back in a more intimate space and directed by Rhino artistic director John Fisher, who has worked with Martin before in his plays Special Forces and Schonberg among them.

“Working with John is a mutual admiration society,” Martin says. “He can be an Otto Preminger of sorts. He won’t let you go on stage if you’re not ready. His tremendous love and care of a project can make him tough.”

As Headmistress/Ahab, Martin is in a demanding role – he says he doesn’t remember having to sing this much for a role – but he’s been in demanding roles before. He’s famous for taking the Bette Davis roles in stage adaptations of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte and All About Eve.

In fact, he and fellow drag diva Varla Jean Merman (across the street from Rhino starring in Jungle Red at the Victoria) have plans to make a movie version of the drag Baby Jane.

Martin’s glamorous life as a grand dame of the Bay Area stage is balanced by his day job in a law firm – he’s a “legal sexy-tary,” as he puts it – a job he’s had for more than a decade and allows him the flexibility to pursue his show-biz career.

In recent years he (with roommate Finn) adapted the horrible Joan Crawford B-movie horror flick Trog for the stage. The show was so successful here they took it on the road to Los Angeles.

Last year, Martin and Finn opened up their home and turned the front parlor into a mini-theater (seating 70) and performed live episodes of “The Golden Girls” with an all-male cast. Martin played the lusty Blanche Devereaux.

He also went on tour with several Trannyshack performers including Heklina – Martin describes it as akin to a USO Tour – with stops as disparate as London and Santa Fe.

“In Santa Fe we performed at a lesbian pizza parlor,” he recalls. “They were so hungry for entertainment! The dressing room was upstairs over the pizza ovens, and the partition for the dressing room was made of Saran Wrap.”

Touring through Martin’s home – a shadowy Victorian wonderland of dark, rich colors crowded with antiques – the performer mentions some of his triumphs on stage at the Castro Theatre where he impersonated some great Hollywood ladies, who just happened to be in attendance, Jane Russell and Ann Miller among them. Most recently he performed as Mitzi Gaynor for Mitzi Gaynor. She autographed an album cover for him: “To Matthew – You’re the best!” In the photo of the two together, the resemblance is startling.

The world of drag, Martin says, has become a whole lot less shocking than it used to be and become much more a part of the mainstream.

“I’ve never really considered what I do to be doing drag,” Martin says. “To me it’s about playing a character, whether it’s Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Judy Garland or whoever. It’s not about genitalia, it’s about character.”

“Moby Dick! The Musical” continues an extended run through Oct. 19 at Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St., San Francisco. Tickets are $15-$40. Call 415-861-5079 or visit

Here’s Martin during his Mitzi Gaynor gig at the Castro Theatre earlier this year: