David Krom, otherwise known as his persona De De DeVille, says it could happen — a drag queen becoming first lady of the United States. DeVille has written a play about it and will be headlining its performance in May at the Fishtank Performance Studio.
“It’s called First Lady, with a question mark, which is a nightmare for auto-correct,” DeVille said with a laugh. “The whole genesis of this is, imagine how a small-town boy from Kansas ended up in the White House in four-inch spiked heels. Basically we’re tackling the fictionalized concept of how a gay couple ended up accidentally becoming the president and first lady.
“The political rise of my husband is all sort of fun. We get on the ticket as vice president, and we win, but then the president has a heart attack and dies. So suddenly, I am first lady of this great land.”
DeVille is now starring in the New Theatre Restaurant production of Harvey, which runs through April 6. I asked whether the audience knows that it’s a drag performance, and DeVille responded, “Some do, some don’t. I’m billed in the program as De De, with an all gender neutral bio and a head shot of De De. He (the director) didn’t go about casting a drag queen. He cast me. He had seen me in An Otherwise Hopeless Evening performance as Mrs. Hergesheimer. He saw someone who could be Mrs. Chauvenet.”
The setup of the play, DeVille said, is that it’s inauguration day, after her husband is elected to a second term as president, on his own merits. A Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter is coming to interview her about “the previous four years and about our political rise and what happened when we were in the White House. As you can imagine, my first year in the White House doesn’t go as smoothly as you would hope. So now that we have been re-elected, I guess it’s time we tell our story.”
The play, she said, happens in real time. “I arrive from the inauguration and the inaugural luncheon in my inaugural suit. My wig is missing for that evening, and my Secret Service agent is on the hunt for it. But the reporter arrives, we do the interview, and at the end of the interview, I change into my inaugural gown and head out to the ball,” DeVille said.
It’s a three-person show directed by Phil Kinen, and the presidential husband is never seen.
“The only people in the show are my Secret Service agent, who will be played by Jeff Smith, and my reporter, who we are still in talks with.”
DeVille said she has done extensive research on first ladies in the White House. “Everything that happens politically in the show actually could happen. It’s like the perfect storm to create this. But by the time you’re done seeing the show, you will have that [thought>: ‘Shoot, that could have happened.’”
Heidi Van, founder and curator of the Fishtank, said the show fits in well with the theater’s mission.
“I created the Fishtank to provide a space for creators of new work,” she said. “The Fishtank is a space to collaborate, edit, and debut ideas.”
Plays and performances like First Lady? she said, are typical of what is produced at the Fishtank – a world premiere by a Kansas City playwright, an intimate show. The Fishtank has maximum seating of 35, so Van recommends making advance reservations. “Shows at the Fishtank do sell out!” she said.
DeVille spoke of being inspired to do more in theater on her own by the success of people like local actor/writer/directors David Wayne Reed and Ron Megee. DeVille did several plays with them in the Late Night Theatre company.
“Late Night Theatre was a wonderful, wonderful school,” she said. “And the incubator of amazing creative people, and now so many of us are really stepping out. Watching David’s success and being able to do his own thing spurred me on to apply for a Rocket Grant through the Charlotte Street Foundation, which I received. It enabled me to begin the process for this show.”
Last year, DeVille decided to make some life changes. “My mother passed away, and my grandmother passed away. I hit one of the milestones in my age that I don’t want to admit to,” she said with a laugh. “I realized I was miserable working retail and broke. So I said, ‘Why continue down that path?’ I can still be broke and be happy.
“So I left retail and got lucky enough to find a job doing what I love, which is seamstress work, and then [performed in”> An Otherwise Hopeless Evening and Sordid Lives at the Barn Players Theater, and I got cast in Harvey.”
DeVille said he’s been in theater for 26 years, and this year is his 20th anniversary of doing drag as De De DeVille. “I did my first show 20 years ago at The Hideaway in Lawrence,” he said. “And fairly shortly after that, it was the Cabaret and The Edge.”
DeVille said that doing drag is a form of theater.
“It’s a performance,” he said. “It shouldn’t be a boy in a dress flapping his jaw to a song.”
If You Go
First Lady? will run weekends May 2-25 at the Fishtank Performance Studio, 1715 Wyandotte St., Kansas City, Mo. (www.fishtanktheater.com) Friday and Saturday shows are at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees are at 5 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at First Lady or by calling 816-809-7110. “