Drag king

Coy Covington walks the choppy waters of Pegasus' Charles Busch revival

Comic actor Coy Covington trowels on the base and mascara far too infrequently for Dallas audiences; underneath all that getup and goo, he has a bloodhound's sense for the moment to play comedy up or down. While he stalks the daytime in man drag, he ought to consider teaching lessons in precision camp. A good place to start would be Pegasus Theatre, the home of his current production.

Covington is the best thing about Pegasus' current double bill of Charles Busch one-acts, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and Sleeping Beauty, or Coma. This statement must be qualified with the observation that much comic talent percolates among the large cast that composes this Busch revival, which was first staged by Pegasus during its 1986-87 season. But those moments when some of the other actors shine feel like gulps of oxygen for them and us, disparate respites from the loud, relentless tone that is, in my experience, the biggest liability of Pegasus productions. Director Steven Shayle-Rhodes graduated from helming community theater shows in Lewisville, Frisco, and McKinney to herding an unruly cast for one of Dallas' most hidebound theatrical venues, a 13-year-old veteran that has survived chronically mixed reviews to offer a mantra of exclusive, overboard comedy. Yet rather than infusing Pegasus with much-needed fresh blood, he continues an unfortunate company tradition: pressing the fast forward and volume-up buttons on actors who have more to offer than we'd ever suspect from the frenetic, contrived, strike-a-pose method under which they labor.

The frustrating evening begins with the second one-act on the bill, Sleeping Beauty, or Coma. It concerns a cockney temp in 1966 (Covington), who emerges as Mod London's top supermodel thanks to the patronage of renegade designer (Jennifer Earhart) and her photographer boyfriend (David Noel); she recovers from a two-decade LSD-induced coma thanks to a vitamin-peddling quack (Nye Cooper). Covington is essentially a supporting player in this one, and for a good part of the show, you feel the lack.

The more consistently funny Vampire Lesbians of Sodom depicts the bitter rivalry between a "westal weergen" of Old Testament times (Covington) and the vampiric succubus (Andi Allen) who not only drinks her blood, but inspires in the comely (and now undead) maiden a thirst for showbiz ingenues--from 1920s Hollywood contract players to wannabe Vegas chorus girls just in from Texas (both played by Jennifer Earhart).

Both Vampire Lesbians and Sleeping Beauty boast terrific visual hooks, from Patricia Renee Korbelic's canny, lovely costumes to the decadently illustrated sets courtesy of New Theatre Company's Bruce Coleman. Equally talented (but only intermittently effective) are Andi Allen as a starstruck London patron and a Cuban-sounding Succubus who devolves from feared deity to Vegas cleaning lady; and Nye Cooper, who invites direly needed laughter to the final scene of Sleeping Beauty with his calmer reading of an '80s fad nutritionist who peddles llama enzymes.

The cast of both one-acts achieves harmony for some very funny dance sequences choreographed by Andi Allen, who has united her co-stars in musical lunacy (the rehearsal for a Vegas showstopper set to Donna Summer's "Bad Girls" is priceless) more effectively than director Steven Shayle-Rhodes does in the undanced scenes. Again, I can't help but look to Coy Covington, who inspires laughter from well-timed facial expressions and tones of voice rather than strident comic campaigning. Pegasus Theatre spends too much time lecturing to audiences about what they think is funny; the performers rarely relax long enough to let us make those discoveries on our own.

For the record, Dallas actor Coy Covington does not want to be referred to as "she." Although Covington has acted only occasionally on our stages over the last few years, the performances people seem to remember him best for are the ones he does in drag. Specifically, he has become the city's foremost interpreter of the luxurious but tart vision of Charles Busch, currently in Pegasus Theatre's Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and Sleeping Beauty, or Coma, but within the past five years for productions by the now-defunct Moonstruck Theatre of Busch's Red Scare on Sunset, Theodora, She-Bitch of Byzantium, and Pardon My Inquisition. Since Busch himself is known to exit the theater in pumps, and since Covington is just so damned natural onstage in tranny regalia, people assume he flips through the tabloids in long checkout lines at Tom Thumb with red-nailed fingers.

"I have performed in a few nightclubs around town," he confirms of other extracurricular drag. "But when the lights go up in the theater, I peel the dress and scrape the makeup off."

Someone who recently saw the show asked one of Covington's co-stars, "Is that sex change you work with in the play a nice person?"

"I try to look as good as I can onstage," Covington says of his female roles, "but there are limits to what I'll do for my art."

There seem to be few limits to Covington's onstage comic resourcefulness, however. His somersaults into the outrageous aren't so much fearless as disciplined, not surprising for a man who's been training in theater since he was an adolescent and who received his master's from the University of Mississippi. Covington is a self-described military brat whose Marine father moved his family from place to place, including California and North Carolina, as Covington was growing up.

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