“The House of Dinah or The Black Queens” by Jerome Augustus Parker (pictured above)

A tale about a waitress in a diner, the woman seeking refuge therein, and the enslavement of both under three fierce managers. Part drag show and part fantasy- All the roles are played by black men. HOD trails through race, gender, history, power, and time. Dinah Washington, her spirit and music, guides the trip.

  • Friday, December 5th 8 PM
  • Saturday, December 6th 8 PM
  • Sunday, December 7th 3 PM

UCLA New Works Festival
UCLA School of Theater, Film & Television

The New Latino Theater Company
514 S. Spring St.
L.A., CA 90013
Between 5th and 6th Streets
Theater 4

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Theater Review: “The House of Dinah”

By Shelley Brown, Daily Bruin

Due to over-the-top essentials of sequins, sky-high weaves, and (lest we forget) feather fringe, any drag show runs the risk of becoming a tranny, hot mess. This is not the case with “The House of Dinah or The Black Queens,” a play by Jerome Augustus Parker that retells the hilarious and audacious histories of five black drag queens to a soundtrack of Dinah Washington’s hits.

Directed by UCLA alum Noni Limar and presented by the theater department’s New Play Festival, “The House of Dinah” ran Nov. 12-14 at the Black Box Theater in Macgowan Hall.

Inspired by the empowering music of 1940s jazz singer Dinah Washington, “The House of Dinah” is more than simply a cabaret of drag queen attitude and outrageous style.

The play also offers insight into the black and gay communities’ struggles for social equality across four generations of American history.

The themes of slavery and gender-bending are carefully cosmeticized in the play through the characters of Lady and Wilhelmina, young queens who are entrapped in the service of three goddess-like figures or so-called “Mothers,” Tamika, Gladys and Felicia. Wilhelmina and Lady must learn the lessons of the older generations in order to free themselves, (both figuratively and literally) from their enslavement.

The hilarious and moving history lesson imparted by the trio of authoritative drag queens presents an impressive range of life experience.

Ranging from the racism of the Deep South in the 1920s, to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, to the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, the peppery and downright vulgar oration of the three women offers a historical retrospective that is powerful and yet too deliciously subversive to be anything near sappy.

The striking monologues of each of the characters make their palpable suffering irresistibly relatable.

The queens were so well executed that the audience would forget they were actors dressed as men dressed as women – as the show progressed all labels dissolved, leaving only the starkness of humanity.

The underlying emphasis on the human experience is perhaps what makes “The House of Dinah” so inspiring. One does not have to dress in drag to understand the universal emotions of yearning and alienation.

The show sums up the experience of the outsider, and more importantly, the freedom of realizing one’s self-worth.

This recurring theme of self-revelation maintains a constant level of intrigue, and prevents the show from dragging (no pun intended). The “Mothers” are not immediately revealed to the audience but are presented in backlit silhouettes above the stage, while Lady is introduced with a ripped dress and bloody face.

Whether it is by the mysterious back story of Lady or the impending grand entrance of the “Mothers,” part of the charm of the “The House of Dinah” is its recurring promise of an impending Cinderella moment.

Ultimately, though, the real transformation that the play promises is that of the viewers.

With a catchy soundtrack, flashy design and altogether empowering storyline, “The House of Dinah” inspires women, men (and those in between) to believe in their own ferocity and, if so inclined, to belt like Dinah, “Time has opened the door, and at last I am free, I don’t hurt anymore.”