The male leads in Tennessee Williams plays often embody a specific set of characteristics: sweaty T-shirt, chiseled chin, toxic masculinity. Drag king Gina Carmela will be taking on this archetype in Bananas Burlesque this weekend as part of the 2022 Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival.
The new show is a mix of burlesque, live music, lip sync, prop gags, and scenes about the representation of gender roles in Williams’s works: think Carol Burnett meets Looney Tunes. Carmela will be adding to their quickly growing repertoire opposite Lefty Lucy, who first brought her burlesque expertise to Provincetown when she appeared in the world premiere of Williams’s Chorus Girls Plays at the festival in 2013.
It’s the second time the duo has performed together. In last year’s Tennessee’s Latest Peepshow, Lucy manifested Blanche DuBois’s psychological decline through the main plot points of A Streetcar Named Desire with a straitjacket escape act and a duet with a hand puppet in a seedy motel. Meanwhile, Carmela’s Stanley Kowalski belted an unrestrained rendition of James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” in classic grease monkey drag.
A native of North Eastham, Carmela, 23, has been acting, singing, making art, and using “makeup as meditation, to get in touch with myself” since childhood. When they found themself having to finish their theater and gender studies degree from home during the pandemic, they started looking to Provincetown — and asking questions. “I started wondering, ‘Where are the drag kings?’ ” says Carmela. “ ‘Where are the lesbian bars? Where is there a space for me?’ So, I started to become the person I was looking for.”
For Carmela, drag became a way of interrogating preconceptions of gender. “It’s allowed me to learn about and try on various masculinities,” Carmela says. “It’s an identity thing, but it’s a social thing as well.”
When asked if and how they distinguish drag kinging from what drag queens do, Carmela explains how drag kings and “drag things” — performers who don’t neatly fit (or don’t want to fit) into the two prescribed categories — approach their embodiment of gender roles from different angles. Femininity, says Carmela, has always been presented as an act and through costume, while masculinity manifests itself in the body. But Carmela started thinking about how they could be viewed in more equal terms.
“If femininity is expressed through an act or a costume,” Carmela says, “then masculinity can be as well. My masculinity is just as valid.”
Carmela’s current role continues an exploration of masculinity through Williams’s iconic male characters, echoing their misogyny, homophobia, class struggles, and imprisoning traditional gender roles. They noted that they had to be careful to “embody but not embrace” those characters: “It’s an exploration and exploitation of them,” says Carmela.
Up next in Carmela’s calendar is a male role in Ryan Landry’s next Gold Dust Orphans show, Little Christmas Tree Shop of Horrors, at South Boston’s Iron Wolf Theatre this December. It’s an opportunity to start reaching wider audiences, for which they’re grateful.
“I’m so young, and I feel that I’ve been presented with all this opportunity already,” says Carmela. “I want to take that to the rest of the world. Everyone should feel they have a space to create. It’s all about having fun.”
Bananas Burlesque will be performed at various venues and times during the 2022 Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival from Sept. 22 to 26. See twptown.org for the complete schedule.