Off Broadway Reviews
This gruesome and tantalizing unsolved mystery provides the premise for Jeffrey S. Jones's new play, Case Closed: The Dorian Corey Story. Jones had met Corey a few times and conducted an extensive interview with Corey's close friend and fellow drag performer, who purportedly revealed the searing truth behind the cold case. Part murder mystery, part tutorial on drag and LGBTQ+ history, and part campy comedy with a few drag performances thrown in for good measure, Case Closed has the potential to be a delicious and over-the-top potboiler. In its dogged attempt to bring together the different genres, though, the play sags under its own overzealousness.
The first act alternates between the interrogation of Velma (a delightfully bitchy Isaac Dean), a fictionalized version of Jones's secret informant, and a dressing-room monologue by Corey (a wonderfully wry Scott Weston), who is preparing for a performance. (Dominique N. Mercado and Scott Stewart designed the shimmery drag costumes. Hailey Kragelj designed the evocative lighting.) The interrogator, Detective Dombrowski (a gruff Jake Thomas), strikes a familiar noir figure as he bullies, taunts and tricks Velma into revealing her complicity in the crime. And audiences acquainted with the celebrated film documentary Paris Is Burning will instantly recognize the presentation of Corey, who in both the film and play is a sage drag mother offering a tour of drag through the decades while poignantly reflecting on the difficult lives of gay and trans people before the 1990s.
The second act flashes back to a rundown Harlem apartment (sparingly but effectively designed by Peta McKenna) in 1967, and we meet the strays, misfits, and social outcasts for whom Corey provided shelter and mentoring. The characters include Regina (Grant Hale), an effeminate gay teen and runaway; Manny (Marlon Alexander), a go-go dancer with a penchant for BDSM; Joseph (Spencer Gonzalez), a Jewish hippie/ law student; and Willie (Frank Muni), an older gay man who has recently divorced his wife and come out; and Velma. These are, it becomes clear, the additional suspects in the murder of the detestable Bobby, aka Robert Worley (Matt Braddak).
Jones explains in a program note that among his early influences was the film version of The Boys in the Band, and the scenes in the Harlem apartment are marked by a similar use of verbal sparring, sexual double entendre, and constant shade throwing. The ensemble members under Laurence C. Schwartz's direction are in general quite endearing, but they haven't quite settled into the camp rhythms and catty one-upmanship the exchanges require.
Sharpening the linguistic knives surely would make the evening more satisfying, and with more performances, the cast and crew can smooth some of the long and awkward scene transitions. Still, the running time is advertised as two hours, but the night I attended it was closing in on three hours.
Case Closed certainly would benefit from further editorial evaluation and structural scrutiny. There is a terrific play inside, and with judicious pruning and refinement, Dorian Corey's fabulous and outlandish legacy would be duly honored.
Case Closed: The Dorian Corey Story