This blog post is part of a series of profiles of Atlanta-area drag queens and is funded by a grant from Idea Capital.
Evah Destruction brings the drama.
Never before have I seen a queen with such ability to fully perform a character utilizing every part of her body. Evah is a true theater queen. She is most at home performing a bit of Broadway, her favorite Disney heroine, a monologue from a television show, or anything that requires an opulent amount of expression channeled through very precise inflections.
Whenever a queen goes on stage, she is taking on another persona; a good lip sync demands more than tittying around on stage, flapping your jaw like a dead fish, and picking up dollar bills. When I see Evah perform, she acts with her whole body -- from fingertips to eyelashes -- throughout an entire number. I swear that she can even act with her wig: She can flip her hair and completely change the mood on stage. Evah can transform herself into delicate and battered Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors; embody a crazy, laughing clown; or throw it down as Nicki Minaj. The range of roles she plays is only limited by how much movement and detail she can put into a character: The more the better. She acts, lip syncs, dances, graciously accepts tips, responds to the music with her body, and has fun. Add to this the fact that she's tucked her penis, is under layers of unbreathable fabric, and is balancing bejeweled wigs and hats on her head. Only somebody who truly loves her art would endure such extremes.
Evah, 22 years old, makes her living as a drag queen and has done so since 2011. After years of hustling for gigs here and there, she has a very established schedule. Performing at Lips Atlanta on Wednesdays, Burkhart's on Thursdays and Saturdays, and Jungle on Fridays is her weekly schedule. Evah spends, on average, three to four days a week practicing and a few days here and there crafting and ends up working on her drag every day even if she isn't performing. When Evah steps on stage, you immediately know she has spent many long hours honing a five-minute piece of entertainment. When I've seen Evah perform, she consistently brings a high degree of detail to her characters. She knows the right moment to quiver her lips, subtly shake her hips, or tantalize us with her tits. Very often she will take numbers that I've seen other queens do and provide her own incredible take on it.
In the Atlanta drag community one number stands out as an absolute crowd favorite: "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" -- not the song by Vicki Lawrence (and redone by Reba) but a scene from Designing Women, the campy sitcom about interior-designing women in Atlanta. In this bit Julia Sugarbaker (played by Dixie Carter) defends the honor of her aging Georgia-pageant-queen sister when she hears the reigning Miss Georgia talking trash. In this monologue Julia Sugarbaker schools Miss Georgia on the true meaning of "when the lights went out in Georgia": the night Suzanne Sugarbaker's baton twirling brought the house to their feet.
This is a tricky number that I have seen queens all over Atlanta attempt only to flop. It requires an intense amount of energy funneled through very small, controlled gestures. In the scene Julia Sugarbaker never flounces around in a simple "terminator tirade"; she mostly stands her ground with power and shuts down her opponent. This isn't to say she is stone-cold, because Dixie Carter channeled all of her acting prowess into subtle changes in facial expression and body language to move her character forward.
Other queens fail at this number for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they insist on having Julia's antagonist, Marjorie, the new Miss Georgia, on stage to play off her. This devolves into men with poor posture mincing about on stage in cheap gowns, mocking the art of pageantry. Sometimes queens on the pageant circuit perform it as an ode to the learned eloquence and fierceness instilled by the pageant system, but these attempts are too uptight, too obsessed with literally portraying Julia Sugarbaker as she is on the show instead of bringing their own interpretation to the scene.
In her own mix Evah mashes up "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" with Meryl Streep from The Devil Wears Prada and the song "Drama" by Club 69. Throw in a little bit of Mommie Dearest and you see why Evah calls this her "Dramatic Diva" mix. When the track gets to the beginning of the Julia Sugarbaker monologue, the audience at Jungle goes crazy. It's a crowd pleaser, and you can hear people screaming, "Yes, gawd!" and, "We've got a basic bitch down!"
As soon as the monologue starts, Evah stares across the audience. We are her antagonists; we are Marjorie. Evah moves through the number with the grace of a praying mantis perpetually ready to strike. Her hips sway and sashay slightly, but only when the monologue calls for her to tease with her body. She intimidates us using her glasses, looking down at us through them or pointing them threateningly toward us. Her gesticulations convey the intensity of a flaming baton and the faces of thousands of weeping men, all while Evah graciously accepts tips from the audience. At a very crucial moment, when Julia Sugarbaker mentions the baton "hitting a transformer and showering the darkened arena with sparks," Evah throws her bills into the air, mimicking the dramatic scene. At this moment the audience jumps, joins the monologue, and recites along with Evah. Even Edie Cheezburger, who usually couldn't give two shits about knowing the words, can be seen performing along: "And that, Marjorie -- just so you will know and your children will someday know -- is the night the lights went out in Georgia!"
This is not the end of her dramatic monologue, though. She breaks out a bit of Joan Crawford from Mommie Dearest to remind us not to ever mess with her. Even as the song closes out and Evah collects the last of her tips, she never breaks character. She responds to the crash of cymbals with her eyes and arms; she even breathes along with the singer on the Club 69 track. She makes eye contact with each person who tips her, and she squeezes a "thank you" into the lip sync. The respect Evah has for her art, and for the audience that loves her, is palpable.
Evah's version of "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" is a masterpiece, and I think it's exemplary of the thought a queen can put into creating a character. Evah, as a theater queen, can easily play to the folks in the cheap seats, and everyone in the audience is enraptured. Hers is a dedication to craft that few other performers have. The drama starts with her.