These Are the Best Shows in Provincetown This Season

Written by | Entertainment, Stage

Miss Richfield 1981

Every year, we make like the Pilgrims and spend a little time where they first landed — in Provincetown, MA. Yes, it’s gayer than Disney Days. Yes, it’s not as gay as it once was, and yes: It’s still gay as a day in May. Each year, part of the fun (besides the booze cruise and the underwear parties) is seeing some of the best drag and musical offerings anywhere.

Oftentimes, it’s best to mix the best of the perennials with something new. Here are four of the best shows of the season — and there’s still time to see them all.

Dina Martina

Dina Martina’s world is no more real than Donald Trump’s. But it’s a lot more fun. (Photo courtesy David-Belisle)

Forgotten But Not Gone

Think Pee-Wee Herman, only funnier. Dina Martina lives in a reality of her own creation and spends most of her time onstage mangling either our language or the cherished pop classics of yesteryear. In Forgotten But Not Gone, Martina proves she knows her way around a tambourine (which comes in especially handy during her demolition of “Life In a Northern Town”), and even the normally snarky and stand-offish (talking to you, Dan Savage) can be seen gasping with laughter at a Dina gig. If her Christmas show is a miracle (and it is), her residency at the Crown and Anchor is always dependably riotous. Miss it at your peril.

Gender Fluids

Here’s the thing about Miss Richfield 1981: No two shows at Pilgrim House are alike, because instead of relying on scripted material, she builds the entire show around audience interaction. Not many rise to the challenge of being funny on the spot, but, like Dina Martina, appearing in drag is only one element of what makes her unforgettable. If you’ve ever heard Paula Poundstone on NPR, or seen a rerun of Groucho Marx hosting You Bet Your Life, you know you’re in the presence of a comic master (mistress?) with Miss Richfield. There are a few set pieces to keep the show’s theme on track, but Richfield never favors structure over a funny line — or a quirky personality in the house. Not only that: There’s a certain Kumbaya element to her shows as well, since attendees actually meet some of the folks in the audience. It’s the best ice-breaker in town, and the first show I’d take anyone to see who wants to get a true feel for the PTown vibe.

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The Boy Band Project

If you’re seeing multiple shows over the week, it’s fun to roll the dice once and try your luck with something unfamiliar. Frequently, drag queens do shows together as well as individually, so you’ll get a chance to see a satire of Grey Gardens or Feud or something with a little Golden Girls love sprinkled over it. This year, I decided to make my spin-the-bottle choice something called Boy Band Project. Predictably, it featured four singers — also predictably hot in his own way — recreating the boy band craze of the late ’90s and early ’00s. With the exception of a One Direction tune (“That’s What Makes You Beautiful”), the tunes leaned heavily on Backstreet Boys and n’Sync, with one amusing throwback to New Kids on the Block’s “The Right Stuff.” What was not predicted: that the mini-concert would be such an attraction for the ladies, who threatened to drown out the group onstage by adding their own slightly tipsy vocals to the mix. Still, the show has its charms, not the least of which is watching the singers cruise the audience to flirt with men and women alike.

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Varla Jean Merman

Varla Jean Merman serving Madame Realness in “A Star is Bored.”

A Star is Bored

New Orleans ex-pat Varla Jean Merman is another of the venerated queens of Commercial Street, the main drag of Ptown (see what I did there?). While all the comic queens have incorporated video to some degree in their shows, Merman has always dialed hers up to become a main feature of each performance. This year is no exception, as she pokes gentle fun at both Dina Martina and Miss Richfield while saving most of the satire to focus on her lack ofluck with men. Merman’s costumes are never less than witty, and often clever as anything you’ll see walk the ballroom runway on Pose. As the title of the show implies, Merman reflects on her many years in the biz, laments that she didn’t jump on the Drag Race bandwagon sooner, and always provides a genuine heart-tugging moment to give her show the realness that keeps her shows packed year after year. She’s a beefy goddess, and she’ll likely be funny longer than the Provincetown Monument is phallic.

Shows continue through September 8.

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Last modified: September 13, 2019