“I’ll talk about the premise, because it’s brilliant,” a singsong voice casually remarks over my recent Skype conversation. I can tell he genuinely believes that. He then pauses briefly and continues.
“The idea with Peaches Christ shows is always that it’s not us playing the characters in the movie—it’s adapted to be paralleled with the drag performers playing the roles. It’s not that we’re playing Big Edie and Little Edie—we’re playing Big Peachy and Little Jinkxy, and we met 40 years ago to do this show. The premise is that she’s my adopted drag mother and we’ve been living in this theatre as it crumbles around us, doing our Grey Gardens show even though audiences have stopped coming. It’s as if we’re not even aware there’s an audience in front of us. We’re just telling a documentary crew about our experience.”
Photos by Jose Guzman Colon
Thus goes a description of Return to Grey Gardens, as told to me by Jinkx Monsoon. I’m speaking to the now-world-renowned Seattle-based drag performer, the celebrated winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 5, because he’s one of this fully realized stage production’s two lead performers. Many familiar with his art would say Jinkx was born to play “Little Jinkxy.”
Also on the call—the instigator of this technological ménage à trois—is Peaches Christ, a drag performer who needs no introduction among homosexuals and film lovers of the perpetually overcast Bay Area. Peaches’ eponymous brand of drag-driven musical stage shows—parodies of gay culture’s most cherished cult films—are consistently sold-out affairs at the Castro Theatre. But while San Francisco gays recognize her as a goddess—an idol of the city’s storied drag culture and a brand—the name Peaches Christ is heard only within conversations among Los Angeles’ most savvy gays.
Return to Grey Gardens—the brainchild of Peaches Christ, a fulfillment of the writer/director/performer’s creative energy—could be the production that finally reconstructs that dynamic.
“Los Angeles has always been someplace where I’ve loved coming and doing shows,” says Peaches, “and I’ve done events at [Silver Lake’s] Vista Theatre, but this really is an attempt to do what we do in San Francisco, and quite literally. We’re bringing the whole show to L.A.”
The “whole show” is a one-night-only 90-minute performance featuring a cast of Peaches Christ and Jinkx Monsoon, local drag favorites Squeaky Blonde and Lady Bear, the hunky Thomas Dekker (star of Gregg Araki’s Kaboom and Peaches Christ’s own All About Evil) and “a chorus of dancing cats and raccoons”—lest you thought for a second the show would be lacking humor.
Immediately following the show, audience members will be invited onto the stage for self-submission in the “Either Edie Costume Contest,” wherein a few audience members are sure to be praised for spirited and detail-specific impersonations of the famed Big Edie and Little Edie Grey Gardens personas.
Those personas, the female protagonists of the 1975 Maysles brothers documentary being parodied in Return to Grey Gardens, hold much significance for Peaches Christ and Jinkx Monsoon, whose initial meeting and friendship is incidentally centered around the film.
“We had a lot of mutual friends, and I’m a huge, huge fan of Peaches’ work,” says Jinkx. “I went to San Francisco for a couple gigs that I was doing, and I set up a lunch date for us to meet. We instantly connected, and we have so much shared aesthetic and so much shared love of the art form. Actually, the first time we met, we discussed doing Grey Gardens, and it wasn’t too long after that we had the whole plan booked and started working on it. It seemed like in a flash we were doing a show together.”
“That lunch that we had was actually the afternoon of the ‘Snatch Game’ Drag Race episode [the Logo show’s famed episode in which Jinkx Monsoon impersonated Little Edie]—it aired later that night,” Peaches remembers. “I had seen her as Little Edie in the advertisement, but the actual episode hadn’t aired. Jinkx was in town to host a screening of it.
“We talked about it at lunch because Grey Gardens was always on my list to celebrate. You know, I’m in the business of creating events that celebrate cult movies. I was always very reluctant to do Grey Gardens because it’s so precious to me and so special, and the women in that movie are so special. I wanted it to be an homage and really good. So when we talked about it that afternoon, it just felt right.”
That prescient feeling was validated last October during a run of Return to Grey Gardens through San Francisco and Seattle, both performers’ hometowns, in which the show received rave reviews to sold-out crowds. In the annals of Peaches Christ Productions—with an archive spanning 16 years and including productions of Trannie Dearest, Showgirls and, most recently, Clueless—Return to Grey Gardens is one for the history books.
“I know it’s gonna sound really convenient, but Return to Grey Gardens is really special,” remarks Peaches. “I think the tone of it is so different, because it isn’t just outrageous, hilarious camp. There’s sort of a pathos to it that’s a little bit darker and maybe a little more thoughtful. Jinkx in this role is so dazzling. It might sound like lip service, but this is definitely at the top of my list of favorite productions.”
For those who aren’t familiar with the 1975 Grey Gardens documentary, the theatrical production’s previous run up the West Coast has shown that a posthaste screening is recommended though not required for L.A. attendees.
“I didn’t know how anyone would be able to get into the stage show without seeing the movie beforehand,” says Jinkx Monsoon, “but quite a few people say they simply came to see a wonderful show. They loved it with no context.”
“Which is so surreal to me,” Peaches Christ adds. “I’m so married to the content that we’re celebrating that I can’t imagine what it would be like to see any show of mine without an understanding of the film. But I guess it works!”
Return to Grey Gardens Los Angeles plays one night only, April 5, at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre. Purchase tickets here.