Dressing in drag is old hat in the theater world. Back in the olden days when women were not allowed to be professional actors it was a utilitarian device. In modern times it’s often used for comedic effect. For me, however, drag is best when it doesn’t just entertain, but makes us reexamine the traditional roles of men and women. A new Star Trek drag show, now playing this month at the Oasis Bar in San Francisco, does just that.
Directed by D’Arcy Drollinger and Laurie Bushman and starring Leigh Crow, the world’s first female William Shatner impersonator, Star Trek Live! Mudd’s Women manages to be a hilarious and brilliant parody by merely recreating the episode line-by-line and scene-for-scene. This isn’t some loose send up by people who only have a vague idea of the show. This is the full, one hour episode read verbatim by real, longtime fans. Even Kirk’s chair is recreated to a level of detail that would impress the likes of Adam Savage.
The original Star Trek, despite its progressive reputation, had its share of cringe-worthy backwards moments. Mudd’s Women, the “Just Say No” after school special where women are sold to Old West style prospectors, contains plenty of them. That’s why gender swapping the actors in this particular episode seems so richly deserved.
One thing that’s immediately clear is that the mostly unaltered space-hooker costumes and beehive hairdos, designed by William Theiss and recreated by Amie Sarazan, look much more natural on drag queens than they did on the actresses who originally wore them. Similarly, moments of machismo like Kirk stealing himself against the temptations of Eve (get it?!!?) or Childress and his men fighting over who will dance with whom are so much more fun in the hands of skilled female comedians. The entire crew is well represented, from Kirk’s bombastic swagger to McCoy’s gravelly charm to Harry Mudd’s on-again, off-again brogue. Having three towering men in dresses as the objects of the crew’s desire also adds an interesting twist on the “male gaze” trope.
It’s true some of Mudd’s Women was always supposed to be played for laughs, but it’s the bits that sport the grim seriousness of the early first season that allow the audience to laugh hardest, especially when they’re punctuated by innuendos not intended in the original script. This includes the muddled and confusing moral that skin-deep beauty is ok as long as it’s not induced by drugs.
All in all, Star Trek Live! Mudd’s Women makes me glad, for the first time, that this episode exists. If you’re in the Bay Area or will be visiting this month it will be playing every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in October. Tickets range from $25 for general admission to $200 for a four person front row table with a bottle of champagne included. And be sure to look out for their next production, Mirror, Mirror, coming in January, 2016.
Mark Farinas is the author and illustrator of Star Trek: The Webcomic.