“Oh, Lord,” one elderly man sighed.

“Land’s sake,” said a tiny lady.

I’m not sure anyone said, “What will they think of next?” but it’s possible.

Well, that happened. The great drag queen experiment in beautiful downtown Waterville, part of the 2019 Central Maine Pride Festival, has had its 15 minutes and come and gone. No litter was left behind, and no animals were hurt.

Elizabeth Leonard, right, engages with Tom Kawczynski, former town manager of Jackman, during a protest and counterprotest June 1 in front of the Children’s Book Cellar in Waterville in reaction to the Drag Queen Story Hour. Morning Sentinel file photo by Michael G. Seamans

I myself missed the festivities. I was home watching Dustin Hoffman in “Tootsie,” but I understand that an interesting time was had by all.

It all reminded me of an old movie where British entrepreneurs introduced radios to African tribesmen. The frightened villagers all shook spears and rattled beads at the departing Brits. Lesson learned. Innovation always comes with risk.

My mother remembered the day when Willerding’s store in Herman, Missouri, put the first floor model Zenith radios in the window, and locals from three adjoining towns poured in just to touch them and turn the dials.

I personally remember the big doings at the streetcar stop at Grand and Cherokee streets, in front of Rickenbacher’s Appliance store, when they displayed the first color television sets. There were just a few screens displaying ribbons of color and a clock, but it drew a huge crowd. The police were called to handle crowd control. True story.

Here in beautiful downtown Waterville on this lovely June day, just down from the grim crater where Levine’s Department Store once stood, the “folks,” patriots all, filled the sidewalks on both sides.

Residents of the city rattled their hand-painted, candy-colored signs like spears, mumbled some curses and clutched their small children to their breasts like strings of pearls as a man in a dress appeared, as promised.

Ophelia, a drag queen, crosses Main Street toward a group of activists promoting equality June 1 at the Children’s Book Cellar in Waterville.  Morning Sentinel file photo by Michael G. Seamans

Oh, well; as the old song goes, “Life upon the wicked stage ain’t ever what a girl supposes.”

Today, as something like summer creeps into Castonguay Square, the red-faced appalled and the giddy delighted have all gone home and taken their spears and rattles with them.

The estimable Ellen Richmond, owner of Children’s Book Cellar on Main Street, has recovered and restocked the shelves. Richmond, who benefited a bit from the pandemonium, went on the record by saying, “I’m not inviting pedophiles in to pet little children. I have one man coming in dressed as a woman to read stories to children, and then we’re going to make wands and crowns.”

Ellen Richmond, owner of the Children’s Book Cellar in Waterville, holds a copy of the book “Pride,” based on the murder of gay San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk, on May 13. Drag queen Valerie Honeywell read at the bookstore June 1 during Waterville’s Pride celebration. “I want to educate people about other lifestyles,” Richmond said. Morning Sentinel file photo by David Leaming

Egad! I was disappointed to hear that. I would have loved to have come in and make a wand and a crown. Who could be against wands and crowns?

A little history here for the great unread. “Drag” is rooted in classic theater from the ancient Greeks to Kabuki theater in Japan, where men still play women.

We all know that in Shakespeare’s plays at the Globe, women were strictly banned from performing on stage, and not one of the groundlings rattled a spear or threw a rock.

Those of us old enough remember the wonderful Jim Bailey, who did the best Judy Garland ever — and not only Judy, but a great Joan Crawford, Barbra Streisand and Peggy Lee.

Bailey was in the true theatrical drag tradition. He was known as a “female impersonator,” and that’s an art.

By the way, wasn’t that Tony Curtis and Jack Lemon in beautiful drag for “Some Like It Hot”? Nobody’s perfect.

As for me? I played the Blessed Mother in the sixth-grade Passion play because Mary Lister came down with measles. Sister said I had to step in because I was the prettiest boy in the class. For the record, I think it was Billy Hagany who played Jesus.

It gets better. When I was teaching comedy theater for teens at the Waterville Opera House, there was a tight spot where six girls playing nuns had to make a 10-minute quick change that went to 15. So I grabbed a maternity frock off the rack, a terrible wig and a student’s guitar.

I went on as Carmen Diaz and improvised a song, “I Met My Sailor on the Beach in Las Palmas.” The break went to 20 minutes.

Those who attended will tell you that I was fabulous. Ellen Goodman, feel free to book me for your next event. I’ll read the Mueller Report in a nice pinafore and bugle beads.

 

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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