While British theaters have a long history of putting on annual cross-dressing Christmas shows for kids, this custom has stubbornly resisted making the journey across the Atlantic (surprising, I know). However, things are beginning to change here in the Bay Area thanks to a dragtastic live version of senior sitcom The Golden Girls, now back for its third holiday season. The show is threatening to become a full-blown holiday tradition in San Francisco, and why not? Yuletide is a great time to be gay, after all.
But before we go any further, there's something important I want to clear up. It's something I've never really admitted in public before: I love The Golden Girls. There, I've said it. I've come out of my pastel-colored-wicker closet. I'm a friend of Dorothy (plus Rose, Blanche, and Sophia, of course). And this isn't some knowing, post-ironic hipster thing; I genuinely believe it's an outstanding sitcom. The setup is beautifully simple -- four ladies of a certain age living together in a suburban Miami home -- and the tightly written scripts don't deviate from this basic winning formula. No aliens turn up, no one suffers a head-and-body transplant, no sharks are jumped. Indeed, the main characters rarely stray further from their living room than the kitchen over the course of seven seasons and 140 episodes.
This simplicity also makes The Golden Girls ideal for transferring to the stage, even in a small-scale production like this one. There are no difficult outdoor locations to deal with, just two rooms and a few soft furnishings. The four returning leads in the cast all have a strong lineage in San Francisco drag royalty and they play their characters with appropriately reverent understatement, relying instead on scripts that are already packed with plenty of bitchy comments, camp humor, and sexual innuendo.
Indeed, the main subject dealt with in The Golden Girls (both this version and the original) is sex. Sure, the words are kept daytime-telly safe, but some of the gags are still surprisingly racy for a mainstream American sitcom, especially one originally aired in the 1980s. For example, when Rose gives Blanche a blouse for Christmas, she innocently adds, "I hope it's alright. Dorothy said you'd like something crotchless." Elsewhere there are references to infidelity, sexually transmitted diseases, bestiality, and even Bob Hope. This isn't just sex, but senior sex, from a time when Viagra was just a glimmer in Pfizer's eye.
But who can focus for long on mundane matters like sexual politics when you're being dazzled by a geriatric fabulous parade of sequined blouses, scene sweaters, and shoulder-padded nightgowns? In the end, this show is a superb slice of festive fun served with a healthy side order of misty-eyed nostalgia. What could be more Christmassy than that? Perhaps this year Santa's elves shouldn't be the only gender-ambiguous part of your holiday celebrations.
The Golden Girls: The Christmas Episodes runs through December 26, 2009 at Mama Calizo's Voice Factory. For tickets and information, visit voicefactorysf.org.