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Drag queens go ‘on trial’ in Nanaimo in campy play about queer identity

Production will be staged at the OV Arts Centre from Feb. 9-10, 15-18
Anya Kennedy, Randy Humchitt and Darrian Gaetz during rehearsal on Jan. 31 for Western Edge Theatre’s upcoming play ‘Drag Queens on Trial.’ (Mandy Moraes/News Bulletin)

Western Edge Theatre’s latest production will force three drag queens to face the music while on the witness stand.

Drag Queens on Trial, by Sky Gilbert, is the theatre group’s second production of its current season and will be staged at the OV Arts Centre on Victoria Road, opening Friday, Feb. 9.

The artistic director for the theatre company, Johnathan Greenway, knew he wanted to do an all-Canadian season, and sought to stage a play that was in balance between serious and funny for the midway. He had fallen in love with Gilbert’s work about the courtroom melodrama approximately a decade ago while studying Canadian theatre history, and learned it was considered one of the country’s greatest modern plays.

“With the social and political events going on in the States and also right here in Canada, with rallies and protests about queer identity, and in general, about safe spaces for LGBTQ-plus, I thought that this was a really important time,” Greenway said.

Although the play is set in 1985 – the year it was first staged in Toronto – the artistic director said it’s amazing to see how relevant it still is for a modern audience.

“While this will be 40 years old next year, this play is still incredibly topical, especially with what’s been going on the last few years with drag queens and the persecution they’ve been getting by trying to do reading in schools,” he said.

However, Drag Queens on Trial should not be compared to readings in schools, since it’s suggested for audiences 16-plus because of extreme language, violence and sexual themes.

“It showcases three people – not drag queens, not homosexuals – it showcases three individual people. And to promote the love that they have for each other and that we need to have for other people,” Greenway said.

The artistic director noted that the play is not a drag nor burlesque performance, but a staged production done in the form of a German melodrama and is structured like a courtroom drama. Although, it does have its “campy and kitschy” moments.

“It’s a bit of a blend between the flair that drag queen shows can have, and a really staunchly, dry melodrama … It slaps you in the face with comedy and then socks you in the gut with some harsh reality,” he said.

The three queens on trial, Lana Lust, Marlene Delorme and Judy Goose, will be played by Randy Humchitt, Darrian Gaetz and Anya Kennedy, respectively. The actors not only portray their queens, but also “extensions of their characters” as a judge, prosecuting attorney and surprise witness.

“These three people are also representative of the larger community, in the sense that they get resurrected every time this play would be put on … They’re three spirits that exist, perpetually within the show that represent three facets of queer culture,” Greenway said.

Audiences are advised there will be a protection policy in place and that anyone exhibiting disrespectful behaviour will be asked to leave the venue.

Drag Queens on Trial will run at the OV Arts Centre from Feb.9-10, 15-17 with staging at 7:30 p.m., and 2 p.m. on Feb. 18.

Tickets can be purchased at

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