‘The First Wives Fight Club’
Saturday, April 20
1615 Vine St.
$20; VIP $120
The first rule of promoting a show called “The First Wives Fight Club” is you do talk about “The First Wives Fight Club.”
Legendary San Francisco-based drag queen and pop culture parody powerhouse Peaches Christ took that directive to heart, while speaking with the Blade about her latest unholy creation.
Landing at The Montalbán on April 20, this merging of ’90s-era flicks “The First Wives Club” and “Fight Club” gets its mojo from a stellar ensemble featuring Raja (“RuPaul’s Drag Race” season three winner), Brooke Lynn Hytes (“Drag Race” season 11), Ginger Minj (“Drag Race” season seven, All-Stars season two), and the Christ child herself, who shares writing and directing duties with Varla Jean Merman.
This “First” is hardly virgin territory for Peaches Christ Productions, known for bawdy, improv-friendly scripted stage shows that proudly lack polish, yet manage to nail the particulars of their much-loved source material, while playing on the drag personas of its cast. Last month saw Peaches’ “Mean Gays” at The Montalbán, with Kim Chi, Laganja Estranja and Willam doing their “Mean Girls” thing.
“There are times we come up with a mashup based only on the title,” Peaches says. “But this one, the films really lend themselves to a mashup, which was important to both Varla and I. ‘First Wives Club’ is obviously about female empowerment and ‘Fight Club’ is about male empowerment, in some ways, but also toxic masculinity. So we were able to take elements and plots from both films, and mash them up into a universe where these three women find their strength through fighting each other. … It really gets crazy and intense. They make bombs out of soap.”
As to this collaboration with Varla, “It’s almost like sharing an extra mind, like you’re just listening to another person speak your voice,” Peaches says. “We take a joke the other person makes, and make it more disgusting and more ridiculous.”
Case in point, their cross-pollination of the show with characters who “exist in different universes,” says Peaches, who plays “a mashup of Helena Bonham Carter and Brad Pitt. I’m the element who shows up and pushes Annie into fighting and starting this club.”
Elsewhere in the narrative, Peaches notes, the “First Wives” girlfriend originally played by Elizabeth Berkley is, “in our show, Nomi Malone, from ‘Showgirls.’ And Bette Midler’s husband, his girlfriend is played by Sarah Jessica Parker. In our show, she’s Carrie Bradshaw.”
That led to an elephant in the room for the writer/director duo, Peaches says.
“Are we doing horse jokes? If we are, we’re going all the way. We’re not going to do one. We’re going to do two million.”
With a supporting cast that’s “larger than the press release lets on,” Peaches notes, the core players are familiars — but in the case of Brooke Lynn Hytes, Peaches credits her Canadian friends for “alerting me. We cast her before the TV show (‘Drag Race’) started, knowing the world had not yet met her.” On stage, Peaches assures, Brooke Lynn, as the Goldie Hawn character, will make good use of her background as a professional ballet dancer, when it comes to executing the outlandish fight scenes.
In the Diane Keaton role is Raja, who Peaches knew for years, but “also became close to her through (gigs in) Provincetown. … I really give her credit, because she was walking through a completely new experience. She’s got great instincts.”
Of her first-ever casting in a theatrical production, Raja says, “Peaches was like, ‘Well, we really want to find a personality that could fit the Diane Keaton part,’ in the sense they wanted her to be stoned. I was like, ‘OK, I can do that. I’m always stoned … but not ditzy.”
Of accepting the role, Raja said, admirably, Keaton’s “always played with gender and clothing, and has a badass style. I knew I couldn’t say no. … I’m at a point where all drag seems the same, and I wanted to challenge myself in a whole new way.”
For veteran thespian Ginger Minj, who plays the Bette Midler role (“Well hey, what little gay boy doesn’t want to be Bette Midler when he grows up?”), the three-day rehearsal period was an anomaly for this self-described “theater kid,” accustomed to “where you really break down every beat of the script and you work on every moment. … But from a ‘Drag Race’ perspective, it’s run of the mill.”
Recalling her time on “Drag Race All-Stars” season two, she says, “You’ve got 24 hours to put on an entire musical performance (Minj portrayed Kathryn the Great in the “HERstory of the World” Rusical). That gave me the mental mindset to grab this and say, ‘Let’s make it work.’ I think if I hadn’t been through ‘Drag Race,’ I’d still be nauseous in the corner.”
Acknowledging there was a moment in the rehearsal process when “I broke down and cried a bit,” Raja rallied for the San Francisco premiere, buoyed by the advice of her co-director, who “said there’s no such thing as a flawless Peaches Christ show, and that made me feel very comfortable.”
Ginger has her own defining moment, following in the footsteps of Midler, LuPone, and, lest we forget, Tyne Daly.
“I always wanted to be Mama Rose in ‘Gypsy,’ and I get to do a version of ‘Rose’s Turn,’ ” she says. “So I’m feeling my Broadway affinity in every fiber of my being.”
As for chemistry with her co-stars, Ginger says, “Brooke Lynn and I have known each other for years, from the pageant circuit, so we already had this built-in friendship and Raja was one of my biggest supporters on season seven, so I’ve always had a love for her. The three of us just have a natural rapport.”
So whether it’s mutual support in the rehearsal process or riffing in the face of unexpected disaster (as happened in performance, when one of their pearl necklaces popped off and scattered all over the stage), “the three of us trust each other enough to just go with it.”