Bobby Goodrich and Ryan Walter star in E. Dale Smith’s “Divine/ Intervention,” directed by Braden Chapman. | GARRETT MATTHEW
You might say the late, legendary Divine is having a moment. In 2013, the documentary film “I Am Divine” drew raves, scoring a 96 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. “The Simply Divine Cutout Doll Book” is listed for $600 on eBay. And now the demented drag diva (alter ego of Glenn Milstead) is the subject of the fierce, fascinating stage tribute “Divine/ Intervention.”
Hatched from the fertile mind of director Braden Chapman (known to “RuPaul’s Drag Race” fans as Mimi Imfurst) and written by E. Dale Smith, the play spotlights the stressed out performer alone in a dressing room struggling with his inner demons and his irrepressible creation, Divine.
John Waters’ cinematic muse will forever be infamous for eating a fresh dog turd in “Pink Flamingoes.” But she, or rather, Milstead (played to perfection by Ryan Walter), was so much more than that. This piece honors his struggle for legitimacy and his legacy.
A distraught drag icon, a lost Trekkie, campy spider aliens, and a serious case of penis envy
The concept is genius: On one side of the makeup mirror sits the rotund Milstead, bald and wearing a frumpy white T-shirt emblazoned with “Smile.” On the other is Divine (astonishingly evoked by Bobby Goodrich), wearing a shiny pink-and-blue leopard print dress, bleach-blonde fright wig, and garish makeup.
Milstead wants to reboot his career by performing male roles, leaving Divine in a trunk. He’s tired of being the femme of filth. Divine, however, is having none of it. After all, People magazine named her Drag Queen of the Century. Why walk away from that?
If the discombobulated Milstead is addicted to alcohol, pot, and pies, then Divine is addicted to fame.
Their dispute is interrupted by a host of characters that animate Milstead’s backstory, including a sexy boytoy and a defiant drag host (an excellent Terrell Green), and a flighty personal assistant and a diligent manager (Cosimo Mariano).
My only quibble is that “Divine/ Intervention” becomes mired in too much of a good thing. The squabbling and squawking at the play’s climax is so excessive it’s exhausting. Which, I suppose, is perfectly fitting for the ferocious, larger-than-life drag icon that is Divine.
Aug. 20, midnight; Aug. 24, 7:30 p.m.; Aug. 28, 4:45 p.m.; Aug. 29, 3 p.m. Lynn Redgrave Theater at Culture Project, 45 Bleecker St. at Lafayette St. Ninety mins.
Matt Jennings in his “The Universe of Matt Jennings,” directed by Levi Austin Morris. | JONATHAN DAVID LEWIS
The Universe of Matt Jennings
Matt Jennings is an enigma — he’s black with “white” tendencies, Christian, a Trekkie, and likes to bang dudes. But he feels lost being an outlier. His agreeable, hour-long solo show, “The Universe of Matt Jennings,” chronicles his voyage of self-discovery, drawing inspiration from the classic “Star Trek” TV series.
Captain Kirk is his idol — strong, handsome, and fighter of evil foes. Early on we see Jennings as the captain, barking commands on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, then jumping to Spock, Sulu, Uhura, and the rest of the crew.
Flash back to his biological family. Jennings does an admirable job embodying his mother, father, Uncle Rufus, and Aunt Sophie, though the scarf he employs to delineate characters is not necessary. Sweet portraits of actual family members are flashed in the background.
Growing up a misfit was not easy. With his crisp diction and pressed clothes, black kids called him “Oreo cookie.” Efforts to act like a thug backfired miserably. Ridiculed for being painfully skinny, he hit the gym. He discovered his gay side when he popped a boner watching a hunk in a “Star Wars” movie. “I want him to ride my dark side,” cooed Jennings. At first he tried to pray the gay away; then he discovered juicyboys.com and his dad’s credit card.
The show, like Jennings’ journey, can meander at times. But under the direction of Levi Austin Morris, what the piece lacks in focus is made up with heart and conviction. The 27-year-old actor is every bit as charismatic as a young William Shatner.
Happily, Jennings’ search for his true identity leads to self-acceptance — a multi-faceted persona can be a pretty awesome final frontier after all.
Aug. 19, 7:15 p.m.; Aug. 22, 8:45 p.m.; Aug. 26, 5:30 p.m. Spectrum, 121 Ludlow St., btwn. Delancey and Rivington Sts. Sixty mins.
Phil Johnson, Melinda Gilb, Tony Houck, Andy Collins, and Fred Harlow in Johnson and director Ruff Yeager’s “She-Rantulas from Outer Space — in 3D!” | DAREN SCOTT
She-Rantulas from Outer Space — in 3D!
Things go horribly wrong onstage during “She-Rantulas from Outer Space — in 3D!,” but thankfully, much of it is according to director Ruff Yeager’s evil plan. This 90-minute, gender-bending satire, created by San Diego’s Diversionary Theatre and co-written by Phil Johnson and Yeager, is a delirious if clunky mashup of 1950s B horror flicks and melodramas — think “The Bad Seed” directed by Douglas Sirk and starring Charles Busch.
Set in 1957 Tarrytown, USA, the cockamamie plot centers on ditzy housewife Betty (Johnson) and her cute-as-a-button eight-year-old daughter Suzie (Tony Houck), who come to rent an apartment from Flora and Fred Fairchild (Samantha Ginn and Fred Harlow). Poor Betty is plagued by nightmares of being probed by space aliens, and there’s talk of impregnation and sex changes. “I was investigated by the business end of a red-hot turkey baster,” Betty claims, with a mix of terror and awe.
When the menfolk go missing and strange gals appear out of nowhere, it becomes clear that Suzie is not as innocent as she seems. Never mind that she’s beginning to sprout hideous appendages that look like tarantula arms.
What keeps this goofy spoof on track is the wry script and fine performances across the board. Special kudos to Ginn, who nimbly portrays the six female victim roles with abandon. Harlow’s Frieda, who emerges after Fred vanishes, practically steals the show. He seems to be channeling the legendary Chris Farley from “Saturday Night Live.”
The witty, Technicolor frocks, by Jennifer Brawn Gittings (a glorious mélange of crinoline, taffeta, gingham, and tutti-frutti prints) and wigs by Peter Herman, enhance the proceedings.
Sadly, the production suffers from the limitations of the Fringe, with minimal rehearsal and set-up time and venue-sharing with other shows. The set is flimsy and incomplete (the “davenport” is a just piece of metal patio furniture; there’s no physical door to the apartment). What’s more, the lighting and sound seem out of whack. During each murder that takes place behind a curtain, the moment of impact is muffled — I wanted to hear the resounding crack of the skull.
My suspicions were confirmed after seeing video snippets of the San Diego run, where production values appeared top-notch. In this slapdash Fringe version, “She-Rantulas” doesn’t quite earn its exclamation point.
Aug. 19, 4:15 p.m.; Aug. 21, 11:30 p.m.; Aug. 23, 7:45 p.m. Lynn Redgrave Theater at Culture Project, 45 Bleecker St. at Lafayette St. One hr., 40 mins.
Mark Della Ventura in his one-man show “Small Membership,” directed by David Sirois and Gabriel Hammad. | MICHELLE WEBSTER
Matt’s got a very big problem: a small penis. But Mark Della Ventura, the creator and star of “Small Membership,” is too smart to simply fill his 75-minute comedy with one-note dick jokes. He’s crafted a brutally honest meditation on puberty, sexual orientation, anxiety, love, heartbreak, and celibacy — revealing a host of relatable insecurities.
Make no mistake, there’s a menacing, disturbing undertow that churns just beneath the funny. And it’s a wonder to behold.
Framed as a sharing session at a support meeting (presumably for men with small penises), 28-year-old Matt stands before the group and recounts his tribulations finding meaningful personal connection. See, Matt was bullied as the loser fat kid in school and his friendlessness persisted throughout college. Things got so bad he attempted suicide; he even tried to contract lead poisoning by stabbing his arm with a pencil.
Matt blamed his insecurities on his puny appendage and prayed to God to make his penis grow. Apparently, God was busy.
To make matters worse, Matt struggled with his sexuality, unsure if he liked girls or guys or was asexual. He feared girls would find his member unsatisfying and guys would be much larger than him. “Gay” was the slur that mean kids hurled most.
Under the direction of David Sirois and Gabriel Hammad, Mark’s sensitive performance is as chilling as it is riveting.
What make “Small Membership” all the more absorbing is that, unlike many solo shows that are unabashedly autobiographical, there’s a nagging question of how much of Mark is really in Matt. By using a different name, Mark is allowed extra creative license to play with the facts. No matter. Thanks to a spot-on portrayal, there’s not one moment we aren’t thoroughly convinced that Matt is real. And we yearn to hug him, despite his shortcomings.
Aug. 19, 2:45 p.m.; Aug. 22, 2:45 p.m.; Aug. 24, 5 p.m.; Aug. 28, 7 p.m. The White Box at 440 Studios, 440 Lafayette St., btwn. Astor Pl. & E. Fourth St. One hr., 15 mins.
19TH ANNUAL NEW YORK INTERNATIONAL FRINGE FESTIVAL (FRINGENYC) | The Present Company | Various downtown venues | Aug. 14-30 | $18 per performance | Visit FringeNYC.org for more information