In Michael's Honor
JAMIE LEE: A young performer in the early stage of his drag career, and the self-proclaimed leader and dominate character in the group.
VIRGIL: Gay man in his early twenties who becomes Jamie Lee’s close friend. He is the group’s nurturer. He is also slow-witted and the ultimate booger drag.
SEAN: Effeminate man in his early twenties who wants to be a beautician one day. He is new to the drag world, and his roll is backup dancer in the show.
DARLENE: Straight, redneck neighbor who lives upstairs above the group. She is drunk 90% of the time.
SETTING: 1971. A small basement apartment in a large Southern city.
AT RISE: Sean and Virgil are in their basement apartment living room styling wigs for the weekend drag show. They are anxiously waiting for Jamie Lee to return with news about their missing roommate, Michael.
SEAN: Virgil, I told you to hold it tighter. You can’t hurt it. It’s just a wig. Watch me. I want to get these done before Jamie Lee gets back. He has enough on his mind without having to worry about the wigs for the show.
VIRGIL: I can’t believe how we all came together, you know, the four of us, and Jamie Lee put us in the show so that we could work and live together. Yeah, me, you, Jamie Lee and Michael. One big happy family.
SEAN: A bunch of booger drags making ends meet. I don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t met you guys.
VIRGIL: And I’m glad you’re here. You’re a great backup dancer. Is this better?
SEAN: Yeah, almost. Just watch me again.
VIRGIL: Sean, I can’t believe Michael’s been gone for almost two weeks now. I’ve been worried sick. I know he was seeing someone, you know, that guy that we met after our show last month.
SEAN: Here, now you do it. You mean the cute one in the tight tee shirt?
VIRGIL: With the black hair and blue eyes. Yeah, that was him. He could be Mr. Gay Universe 1971. He was cute, but there was something about him, and I can’t pinpoint what it was.
SEAN: Maybe it’s because he didn’t want to be seen with Michael, except in the club.
VIRGIL: How do you know that?
SEAN: Michael told me. He said that he had a girlfriend and if she saw the two of them together, Michael could get hurt.
VIRGIL: So you think she gave him that black eye? I still don’t believe Michael got that shiner from hitting his head on the cabinet door like he said. He never even uses the cabinets. In fact, he can’t even reach the cabinets.
SEAN: No, I think he got the black eye from his boyfriend. I really do. God, I wish I could remember his name. It started with a J. Something like Joe, Joseph… Michael told me once, but I just never thought about it. If you want that hair to look like Dusty Springfield’s then that side needs to be teased a little higher.
VIRGIL: Mmmm. You’re right. Sean, you make it look so easy. I guess that’s why you’re going to be a hairdresser. You already know so much about hair.
SEAN: I guess I have a knack for it. It just comes easy for me. My Aunt Sarah used to let me wash and dry her hair. Well, actually, she made me do it. It was creepy. She had psoriasis or something. I just remember how flaky and red her scalp was. That looks better.
VIRGIL: Thanks, I think so too. Dusty Springfield, look out. Michael will love this hair. So, you think that guy has something to do with him disappearing? I mean, Michael might just be in love. Maybe he did the eloping thing, you know, leaving and not telling anyone. I’d like to get married to the man of my dreams one day.
SEAN: Two men getting married? That’ll never happen so get that thought out of your mind.
VIRGIL: I guess I’ll have to pretend. Well, he’ll show up. I know it.
SEAN: I’m not sure, Virgil. It’s not like him to just not be here by now. He missed Friday and Saturday’s shows.
VIRGIL: Well, he hated doing drag shows. He said that real women don’t do drag.
SEAN: He’s not a real woman.
VIRGIL: He is inside. That’s what he’s said, you know, that he’s a woman trapped in a man’s body. Kind of like when the butterfly comes out of the caterpillar’s body.
SEAN: Virgil, it’s not like that at all. The caterpillar goes into a cocoon stage and then the butterfly comes out.
VIRGIL: And what happens to the caterpillar?
SEAN: It doesn’t exist anymore, because now it’s a butterfly.
VIRGIL: So, what you’re saying is that if Michael wants to get out of his man’s body, then he’ll need to turn into a cocoon first?
SEAN: Damn it, Virgil. You’re making this so complicated. I hate science, and I can’t explain it any better.
VIRGIL: Didn’t you take science in high school?
SEAN: Yes, I did…and no, I didn’t. I was supposed to take it, but…
VIRGIL: Sean? Did you finish high school? Oh my god, Sean. You didn’t finish high school. I can see it in your face. You dropped out of high school.
SEAN: Yeah, I did. And I’m not proud of it. And I can’t get into beauty school because I dropped out.
VIRGIL: But you could be working on getting your GED…or DEG…or…whatever it’s called. And I can help you. I promise…if you promise to get started with it.
SEAN: Now you sound like my parents.
VIRGIL: Maybe you should have listened to your parents.
SEAN: That’s why I moved out. I didn’t want to do what they told me to do. How did this conversation get turned around to being about me?
VIRGIL: But you’re smart, Sean.
SEAN: My parents never told me that.
VIRGIL: Well, maybe they should have.
SEAN: Yeah, maybe. But it’s Michael that we should be worried about right now. Not me.
VIRGIL: You’re right. But when he gets back home and we’ve scolded him for leaving and not letting us know where he’s been, then we’ll talk about getting you back in school. Deal?
SEAN: What the hell. Deal.
(enter Jamie Lee)
VIRGIL:Jamie Lee? (Jamie Lee sits down) Jamie Lee, what is it? You know something. (long pause)
SEAN: Oh my god, no.
JAMIE LEE: Michael’s dead. He’s dead! Murdered! He was murdered!
VIRGIL: You’re wrong! He can’t be dead. He just can’t be. I’m working on his wig right now. I’m teasing it for him, just like Sean taught me. Michael will need it for his show this weekend. He’s working on a new number, and he just forgot to tell us he was going to be gone for a week or so. I’ve been working on this wig all morning to make it just right, so Michael will look just like Dusty Springfield. (holds the wig in his hand) See, Jamie Lee. See?
JAMIE LEE: (Jamie Lee throws the wig on the floor) Damn it, Virgil. Michael is gone! He’s dead. He’s not coming back and he won’t need that stupid wig. Ever! (long silent pause, then holding his arms out to the others) Virgil, Michael is dead. (the three embrace and weep)
SEAN: I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it. Was it that son of a bitch that he met at the club?
JAMIE LEE: Yeah, it was him. He beat Michael up. His neck was broken, his front teeth knocked out. They said that he went quickly and most of the beating was done after he was dead. They found his body stuffed in a suitcase. Michael’s body was stuffed into a damn suitcase.
VIRGIL: Who told you all this?
JAMIE LEE: I just left his aunt’s house. The police found Michael a few days ago after the killer’s girlfriend turned him in. Apparently, the jerk went into some kind of rage, and just began to beat the crap out of Michael. I don’t know all the details, only that he’s in jail on murder charges. But like his aunt said, he’ll probably get out because it’s not a crime to kill a “faggot” in this state.
SEAN: Then why don’t we kill him? He was having sex with Michael, so doesn’t that make him a “faggot,” too?
VIRGIL: Sean, we can’t do that, so don’t even think about it.
JAMIE LEE: Yeah, we’d all like to kill him, but that won’t bring Michael back.
(knock at the door)
DARLENE: (off stage) Hey, guys. It’s me, Darlene. Open up.
VIRGIL: How do I know it’s really you?
DARLENE: (off stage) Okay, Virgil, you don’t know it’s me, your neighbor for the past three months, so let’s just have this conversation with the door closed.
(Virgil opens the door, Darlene enters carrying a bottle of whiskey) Hey! Where’s my “It’s that skanky Darlene” greeting I always get?
VIRGIL: Sorry, Darlene. We just found out about Michael.
JAMIE LEE: He’s dead. Murdered.
DARLENE: Murdered? Holy crap. You’re kidding, right? No, you’re not kidding. I need to sit down.
VIRGIL: Where is Michael now?
JAMIE LEE: He’s in the chapel at the funeral home. They’re having his memorial this afternoon.
SEAN: If they found him a few days ago, why are we just now finding out about it?
JAMIE LEE: Sean, we don’t even have a phone. We have to use the pay phone down the street. And to be honest with you, Michael’s aunt never liked us much so I guess that puts us at the bottom of the priority list.
VIRGIL: She liked me.
JAMIE LEE: She liked you because when you lived in her house, you paid your rent on time and you didn’t make any noise. I just dropped by to see if she’d heard anything and she told me what she knew. I think she was high on something…booze or pot. I don’t know. Maybe both. She said if Michael hadn’t moved out, this probably never would have happened. Maybe she was right.
VIRGIL: She can’t blame us for his death. We are his family. He just made a bad decision.
JAMIE LEE: There was no good or bad decision. He just met some creep, fell in love with him, and then the son of a bitch killed him. If anything, it was just bad luck.
SEAN: Or sad luck.
JAMIE LEE: Yeah, sad luck.
VIRGIL: So, are we going to the memorial? Did his aunt invite us?
JAMIE LEE: She didn’t say we couldn’t come, only that it was going to be a quiet and laid back ceremony. Closed casket. Then he would be cremated.
JAMIE LEE: Yeah, burned.
SEAN: I don’t have any dress clothes, especially for a funeral.
VIRGIL: Sean, it doesn’t matter what we wear.
SEAN: Yeah, it will. Michael talked about his uppity family and how much money they had. We can’t go there looking like…you know, like…
JAMIE LEE: Like us? With our tweezed eyebrows and lipstick stained lips, like us? Is that what you’re trying to say Sean? We can’t go there looking like us?
JAMIE LEE: And why not?
SEAN: Because, it’s not proper. It’s a funeral. We should be looking normal and dressed up. Jackets and ties, and we don’t have any.
VIRGIL: Maybe we should go in drag. That’s kind of dressing up, isn’t it?
JAMIE LEE & SEAN: What?
VIRGIL: Okay, that was a bad idea. I think I’ve been hanging around you guys too long. Things are starting to just come out of my mouth.
SEAN: I’m not going to a funeral in drag.
JAMIE LEE: But wait a minute. I think Virgil might be on to something.
VIRGIL: I am?
JAMIE LEE: Yes, you are. Do you remember our first night in this apartment, when you woke everybody up with your nightmare and your screaming, and then we sat at the table and had coffee, and then we played Scrabble…?
DARLENE: Hell, I live upstairs and I remember that night. So, it was you that let out that terrifying scream? You woke up the whole entire building. Scared the piss out of me. And then I figured, hell, it was just another hooker getting short changed.
SEAN: And you and Michael got into it because you wouldn’t challenge Virgil’s word…
VIRGIL: I hate playing Scrabble. Everyone knows I can’t spell.
JAMIE LEE: Yeah. We got into it alright. And then things calmed down. Do you remember what Michael said before we went back to sleep?
SEAN: Not really.
VIRGIL: I do. It was something about remembering us, right?
JAMIE LEE: Yeah. He said if he were lying on his death bed, the one last vision he would want to have is the one right before him. Remember? We were in those look-a-like, polyester shift dresses that we got from the thrift store for our Motown medley, and we had Noxema on our faces, and we were drinking coffee and playing Scrabble, and talking about our pretend husbands in Viet Nam. That’s the night we became a family. That’s the memory that he wanted to take with him. All of us in those outfits with the scarves on our heads.
SEAN: Am I thinking what you’re thinking?
JAMIE LEE: Yeah, I think you are.
SEAN: Well, I don’t have anything else to wear, so we might as well. I’m in.
VIRGIL: Okay, I think I’m getting it, but I’m not sure I’m getting what the two of you are getting.
DARLENE: I can’t believe it was you who let out a scream like that, Virgil. Damn, that was loud. Scared the piss out of me!
VIRGIL: Darlene, you’ve said that once already.
JAMIE LEE: (Jamie Lee retrieves the four polyester shift dresses and scarves from a cardboard box in the corner.) Here. You know what we have to do. (The three put on the shifts and scarves.)
VIRGIL: That one belongs to Michael. Give it to me. I want to put it away. Away in my special box.
DARLENE: No, give it to me. I’m gonna wear it to the funeral. In his honor.
VIRGIL: I don’t think anyone’s invited you to the funeral, and anyway, Darlene, you’re drunk.
DARLENE: (mockingly) “Darlene, you’re drunk.” I have a right to pay my respects to the little shit. And anyway, I used to have a dress just like this one…or was it that one?
JAMIE LEE: Virgil, you can put it away later. Let Darlene have it. We can all go together.
VIRGIL: Well, alright, but you can’t take that bottle with you. That would be disrespectful.
DARLENE: I’ll leave it here if it makes you feel better. (Darlene starts to put on the dress and scarf.) You’re ashamed of me aren’t you?
VIRGIL: No, Darlene. I’m not ashamed of you. Here, let me help you.
DARLENE: Don’t touch my boobs. My old man’ll whip your ass.
JAMIE LEE: No one’s gonna bother your boobs. Nobody wants to.
VIRGIL: Gosh, Darlene. Look at you. You’re wearing a dress.
DARLENE: Holy shit, I am. We all are! Does that make me a drag queen too?
JAMIE LEE: Yes, and no. But we won’t tell anybody. It’ll be your little drunken secret. Are we ready to go?
VIRGIL: Yeah, we need to go. But, I’m not sure this is what we should be doing. I mean…it’s so very gay, so very drag queen gay.
JAMIE LEE: And so was Michael. No need to hide it any longer. It’s time his family comes to grips with who he was. It will be our tribute to him.
DARLENE: That sounds great, darling, so how about a toast before we go?
VIRGIL: That’s a great idea, Darlene. Sean, you go first.
SEAN: (holding up a pretend glass) Here’s to Michael. He’ll always be a part of our family.
JAMIE LEE: Yes, forever a part of our “gay” family.
VIRGIL: Goodbye, butterfly. We will miss you.
DARLENE: (taking a final drink) Here’s to the little shit. He was a pretty little stinker.
JAMIE LEE: Let’s all take a deep breath and face forward. Are we ready for the attitude intros?
VIRGIL: Hit it!
(Each actor hits a vogue pose one at a time and snaps fingers when they introduce themselves.)
JAMIE LEE: Jamie Lee!
(The three turn to Darlene, who doesn’t know what to do.)
VIRGIL: Darlene, introduce yourself.
DARLENE: You already know me.
VIRGIL: You know, your “drag” self. Just do what we did. We can’t leave if the intros are not complete. It would be bad luck.
DARLENE: I get it. Okay, here we go. Darlena! Hey, I did it! I did it! Now, I’m official.
SEAN: Yeah, an official mess.
JAMIE LEE: I think we’re ready. Let’s gather our attitude, and in Michael’s honor, let’s hold our heads high and be proud. Michael would have wanted it that way. Come on girls, let’s go to a funeral.
In the 1970’s, J.R. Greenwell was a premiere headliner for many years at the Sweet Gum Head in Atlanta, GA, and performed as a female illusionist across the country. He later earned a Masters of Education at the University of Louisville, and now devotes his time as a queer writer creating plays and prose at his home in central Kentucky. He is the author of a memoir, Teased Hair and the Quest for Tiaras, and a collection of short fiction, Who the Hell is Rachel Wells? For more information on J.R. Greenwell visit his Web site at www.jrgreenwellmga79.com.