A week later, she got a phone call: Would she like to understudy for Edna?
The part of Edna Turnblad, as written in John Waters’s 1988 film for the drag queen Divine, is intended for a man. The role has been famously embodied by Harvey Fierstein on Broadway and, in the 2007 remake of the remake, John Travolta.
Director Eric Schaeffer knew that the Edna he’d cast, Robert Aubry Davis, would have to miss five scheduled performances. Though tradition dictates that Edna be played by a man, Schaeffer said, “What we really tried to stay true to was the storytelling. If anything, sometimes when they cast males in this role, it does become stunt casting. We really wanted it to be about the relationship between Edna and Tracy.”
“It’s such a maternal part,” said Fuller. “It’s written so warmly and lovingly . . . There’s a line in the show, ‘I’m a simple housewife of indeterminate girth.’ I totally get that!”
What the show loses is the insta-hilarity of a man dressed up as a woman, a sort of go-to gimmick that can work even when nothing else is funny. “I don’t get the drag joke,” she said. “And it’s been a concern of mine that the audience is going to be disappointed. They’ve paid a lot of money for their tickets to come see a celebrity in drag . . . and instead they get a female understudy.
“But even though the part was written for a man,” she went on. “The part is a character, and it’s not written as a joke . . . I think the most successful Ednas are going to give the part a very genuine female perspective. It’s not just a guy in lipstick and falsies.”
Fuller has completed her four scheduled performances (one of the five was cancelled) but hopes she’ll have an opportunity to get back in the show, perhaps if the run is extended.
Through Jan. 29 at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington. www.signature-theatre.org. 703-820-9771.
Let’s go to the mall
“The Santaland Diaries” is based on the book of the same name by David Sedaris, who chronicled his experience of working as an elf in Macy’s Santaland. It offers much of Sedaris’s trademark dark humor, peppered with jokes about black Santas and Sedaris’s attraction to a male elf. It was adapted for the stage as a one-man show by Joe Mantello and stars Joe Brack.
So, Joe, what’s it like being a soldier in the War on Christmas?
“People ask me all the time: ‘Do you hate Christmas? Is that why you do this?’ ” Brack said. “It’s a holiday just like any other holiday. It’s something we can celebrate and enjoy or choose to ignore.”
City Artistic Partnerships Executive Director Matty Griffiths explained that Brack’s performance is “exploiting such a clear commercialization of Christmas that he’s really not lampooning the holiday. He’s more lampooning the commercialization.”