Can’t a straight guy put on heels, lipstick and a padded bra, lip-synch to Dolly Parton and become an overnight drag sensation without having his sexuality called into question or facing accusations of misappropriating gay culture?
Such is the intriguing scenario explored by Matthew Lopez (best known for the 2011 Civil War drama “The Whipping Man”) in his heartfelt, feel-good comedy “The Legend of Georgia McBride,” which is being produced Off-Broadway by MCC Theater in the West Village.
The young, straight-laced Casey (Dave Thomas Brown) is working as an Elvis impersonator at a dive bar in the Florida Panhandle, which isn’t bringing in much money. According to Casey’s newly pregnant wife (Afton Williamson), he busted their bank account by just ordering a Papa John’s pizza.
Casey is soon replaced as the bar’s in-house entertainment by two gay drag performers (Matt McGrath and Keith Nobbs), who the owner (Wayne Duvall) hopes will bring in a bigger crowd.
But when one of them passes out due to too many drinks, Casey is pushed into taking the stage in full female attire under the stage name “Georgia McBride,” and a star is born a la “Gypsy.”
After a clumsy debut, where he attempts to imitate Edith Piaf and lip-synch to a French ballad, Casey refigures his Elvis jumpsuit into a dress and develops a country-western persona. He begins to feel empowered by the outsized flamboyance of drag — although he hides his new gig from his family.
It takes some time for the play (which runs just under two hours without an intermission) to make its way through the exposition. But once it gets going, some very funny exchanges and polished drag sequences follow, plus a spirited defense of drag as a form of cultural protest and a way of life.
McGrath is terrific as Miss Tracy Mills, a witty and aging drag queen, while Brown credibly tracks Casey’s progression as a performer.
If you go: “The Legend of Georgia McBride” runs through Oct. 4 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. 121 Christopher St., mcctheater.com.