Roasted and toasted: East Village drag queen Eileen Dover’s wild ride from Boston to New York

East Village drag queen Eileen Dover and neon sign with name
At home, Eileen Dover’s name is in lights. The rest of the world will just have to catch up
Photo by Bob Krasner

“Sorry,” said Nora Burns as she began to roast Eileen Dover at the beginning of his solo show at Pangea, “I didn’t really prepare anything because I assumed Eileen’s show would be canceled again.”

Not likely, though, as Dover has rounded the corner on a series of ailments that could have stopped anyone.

“I had a serious bout of COVID at the beginning, then a liver and kidney crisis that left me with a less than 10% chance of survival,” he tells us. “And then I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes — very rare for an adult — and I broke 5 ribs in a fall. I’m just glad to be on the other side.”

Dover’s life is the sort of thing that biopics are made of, which partly explains the impetus for his show at Pangea, “Do I Know Who You Am: Eileen Dover One Night Only.” Spoken biographical interludes introduced songs related to his life, accompanied by Marcos Rocha on guitar and piano and sung with feeling by Dover.

“Freak” by Boy George (a good friend), David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and “Enjoy The Silence” by Depeche Mode were a few of the choice tunes performed after the aforementioned Burns and Michael Musto got done roasting him, which Dover enjoyed as much as the audience.

“You’ve been passed around more than a beach ball at a Nickelback concert!” Musto exclaimed. “Your legs are like a Taylor Swift song. They’re never getting back together.”

Eileen Dover, left, getting roasted by Nora Burns at PangeaPhoto by Bob Krasner
Eileen Dover, left, getting roasted by Michael Musto at PangeaPhoto by Bob Krasner
Eileen Dover encouraged the crowd to sing background vocals on Lou Reed’s salute to NYC decadence, ” Walk on the Wild Side.” in the window of the Gene Frankel Theater in 2020Photo by Bob Krasner
Eileen Dover performing in a staged reading of Jackie Curtis’ ” Glamour, Glory and Gold”, presented by Brian Butterick at the Howl ! gallery in 2017Photo by Bob Krasner
Eileen Dover at home, wearing a Scooter LaForge hand-painted t-shirt and an earring given to him by his motherPhoto by Bob Krasner

Dover managed to survive his early years in South Boston, where “everyone said that being gay was the worst thing that you could be.” He came out to his parents when he was 13, but they didn’t believe him; they thought he was just trying to tick them off.

At 14, his Spanish teacher was writing permission slips for him to skip class so that the two could travel to New York and the older man could nonconsensually take advantage of the young teen.

“I was working in clubs when I was a senior in high school,” he relates. “I did the lights and the smoke machine at a club called The Loft in Boston. When they raided the place, you could hear the sounds of all the drug vials hitting the ground. Ironically, it’s now a pharmacy.”

Dover began to move back and forth between Boston and New York, staying with friends here for a few days at a time and working the clubs doing anything he could.

“I’ve been a waiter, a bartender, doorman, drag performer — those were the days when showing up for one night in drag at a club or an event would pay for half of your rent.”

The Limelight, Sound Factory and Splash were just a few of the places that Dover recalls frequenting. However, he notes, “In the 90’s I was interested in escaping. … I don’t exactly remember everything.”

He does remember one performance, lip-syncing to “It’s Over For Me,” an obscure house tune that constantly repeats the same lyrics.

“I did an insane dance to that,” Dover recalls. “They must have liked it — they hired me back.”

Dover has been the opener for a variety of 80s acts, including Lisa Lisa and Debbie Gibson. “I wish there was video,” he laments. “I don’t remember what I did!”

There may be a few other queens with the same moniker as Dover, but at least one of them is going to be receiving a cease-and-desist order, as this Dover has trademarked the name.

“I went by a few other names,” he says, “such as Titula the Witch Bitch and Helena Handbasket” (this was before ‘Friends’ co-opted it), but the Dover handle became permanent with the blessing of a dying acquaintance.

A friend of a friend — a drag queen in California — was using it and Dover asked permission to carry it on when she was gone and the friend, honored by the request, granted permission.

Eileen Dover with a pillow based on her likeness by artist Nick Nights. “I didn’t get paid for that”, he says. “And I had to buy the pillows”.Photo by Bob Krasner
Eileen Dover getting sassy on Second AvenuePhoto by Bob Krasner
Eileen Dover getting inside the song at PangeaPhoto by Bob Krasner
Eileen Dover taking in the applause at PangeaPhoto by Bob Krasner
Eileen Dover commanding the mic and a tambourine at PangeaPhoto by Bob Krasner
Eileen Dover, left, getting ready to receive a large pckage in Nora Burns’ “The Village !” A Disco Daydream” at Dixon Place in 2023Photo by Bob Krasner

Dover moved permanently to New York in 2015, after a 5-year relationship ended in Boston.

“I wanted to experiment with a 9-5 life,” he explains. “Coming home to the husband and the dog … but it didn’t work out. And New York was always my first love.”

Nowadays, he is sober and works for Housing Works but manages to take time off for his acting, earning him screen time on an upcoming horror flick — “Rufus” — and a notable moment in “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.”

“Kevin James broke his nose when he fell on my knee”, Dover laughs. “I think he thought it was somehow my fault!”

Dover has spent the last five years working on his memoir, for which he hopes to find the perfect title: “I want it to be as good as Holly Woodlawn’s: ‘A Low Life in High Heels.'”

His latest project is a juicy role in the Nora Burns play “The Village! A Disco Daydream,” which is gearing up for another run at the Soho Playhouse. Burns has nothing but praise for his performance, noting, “I’ve loved having Eileen in my show! She has such enthusiasm and spirit, with the comic timing of Lucille Ball and the dance skills of Ethel Mertz … but what she lacks in high kicks she makes up for in high camp.”

The show’s choreographer, Robin Carrigan, noted that, “Eileen must be very liberal, because she has two left feet,” but she adds that “Eileen’s life has been all the carnival rides and haunted mansions rolled into one, and she shares all that onstage with disarming honesty and humor.”

You can follow Eileen Dover on Instagram at @eileendover_official and online at eileendover.net.

Info on “The Village!” at sohoplayhouse.com/upcoming-events/the-village.