GA Voice

Queer Characters

Feature in ‘Fat Ham’ and ‘Mercury;’ ‘The People’s Joker’ is a Trans Coming of Age Story

- Jim Farmer

For performer Marshall W. Mabry IV, who has lived in Atlanta most of their life, getting to be in the cast of the new Alliance production of “Fat Ham” is an absolute joy. The play, a Pulitzer Prize winner that played Broadway last year, is about Juicy, a Black Southern college kid who is queer and encounters the ghost of his dead father, who wants him to avenge his murder. Juicy is already dealing with his own issues, such as identity and loss, and now his plate gets much fuller on the day his mother is planning a barbeque.

“The play is — to kill or not to,” Mabry said. “What is at stake? Will I lose part of what makes me special if I do?”

They describe the work — written by James Ijames — as a tragicomed­y, an episode of “Martin” that meets “Moonlight” with 15 minutes of “American Idol” and then “Hamlet.” Mabry has played the role of Juicy before in a Boston production that was the first regional production. Their journey started in 2021; they were 19 when they had their first audition. The script literally stopped them in their tracks. They were determined to get the role and eventually did. They said it's an ideal fit.

“[The play] describes Juicy as soft, thick, pensive and gay,” they said. “Soft in body and temperamen­t. It was the first time I had had a play mention me and who I was. It made me feel seen in a way I had never felt before. It was earth-shattering. It's ‘Hamlet' and every generation gets a ‘Hamlet,' and I thought it was interestin­g that James said [the character] looked like me, loved like me. I did a Ted Talk at 17 on ‘To Be or Not to Be' and talked about how many of us are not welcome in these classical spaces.”

Actor's Express has staged much of the work of playwright Steve Yockey over the years, and his “Mercury” is now up and running. Yockey describes it as a revenge play — one with blood and some gay characters. It centers on several different storylines that collide with each other in Portland, Oregon.

“Things get dark,” Yockey said with a laugh.

The deep ensemble cast includes Carolyn Cook, Suehyla E. Young, and Kate Donadio MacQueen.

The show is directed by Yockey's frequent collaborat­or, Melissa Foulger — who he calls a badass — and the two have been working together for two decades.

“We started listing projects together the other night and we stopped because it was not healthy,” he said. “We have always gotten along. Atlanta is lucky to have her because she is this intuitive and effective director. She is not afraid of spectacle, and she knows how to hold onto the core idea when things get crazy.”

Although LGBTQ characters appear in most of his work, Yockey said he's more about presenting gay people living their lives rather than writing a piece that is an “exploratio­n of.”

When Vera Drew took her parody film, “The

People's Joker” — which she had worked on for years — to the Toronto Internatio­nal Film Festival in 2022, she had no idea what would happen next. The movie, which she directed, co-wrote (with Bri LeRose) and stars in, is about an aspiring clown dealing with gender identity while wanting to become part of a comedy program in Gotham City. While at the festival, Warner Brothers sent her a “strongly worded email” discussing potential infringeme­nt on its brand. That was very intimidati­ng, and Drew wound up pulling the film for a while and has slowly been getting it back out into the world.

The idea to make it started off as a way to process what it was like coming out while working in comedy.

“I had been in comedy my whole life,” she said. “I started doing sketch [comedy] and improv when I was 13 at Second City in Chicago. I was very much a theater gay as a kid but deeply, deeply closeted — but I was also a comedy theater gay, which is kind of an aesthetic I like to think the crop of teens at Second City youth program started. It was

this space in my life where I could process identity. I did drag, and it was good for me. It really saved my ass, especially in high school and college.”

But as time went on, it also became a space that kept her locked in self-deprecatio­n. By the time Drew was coming out as trans and settling into it, she felt she had no identity anymore and was riddled with confusion. The initial idea for the film was a story about a drag queen who was physically addicted to irony. A lot of that became part of “The People's Joker,” but it didn't become a queer comic book parody until the spring of 2020 when she and LeRose decided to make a “Joker” parody and make it autobiogra­phical. After the delay, Drew is happy to see a film with a trans character in the lead get distributi­on at theaters around the country.

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 ?? PUBLICITY PHOTOS ?? Clockwise from top: “Fat Ham,” “The People’s Joker,” and “Mercury.”
PUBLICITY PHOTOS Clockwise from top: “Fat Ham,” “The People’s Joker,” and “Mercury.”

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