With Bells On

Come, all ye drag queens // Ian Jackson, EPIC
Come, all ye drag queens // Ian Jackson, EPIC

Until Sun, Dec 22 (8 pm; 2 pm Sunday matinee)
Roxy Theatre, $20

Don’t let the shimmering boob tassels fool you: this drag queen is not as open as her get-up may suggest.

Natasha, a seven-foot-tall drag queen, is decked out like a Christmas tree: a crown of glittery red ornaments hover above her head and a flowing skirt of tinsel grazes her two-inch platform heels. “I’m a private person,” she barks at an unsuspecting acquaintance after the two find themselves stuck in an elevator together.

With Bells On transforms the awkward situation into a charming and hilarious one-act comedy. Darrin Hagen’s play—for the third year running—traps Natasha and Ted, a mild, recent divorcee, in a space that’s a little too close for comfort, though it leaves plenty of space for jokes to be had. But our snarky glamazon has no time for idle small talk—she has to escape by midnight so she can get to the coveted Christmas Queen Pageant in time.

The stubborn elevator doors are the least of the obstacles the two have to overcome. Ted—surprisingly curious and non-judgmental of Natasha —is still reeling from his breakup and struggles to leave his apartment, let alone his comfort zone. In contrast, Natasha is hardened in her self-consciousness of being a drag queen: desiring attention, but fearing being looked at as a freak. In the familiar style of the opposites-attract trope, the two learn from each other to work on their problems, but it doesn’t come without a bit of tug-and-pull from Natasha and some hearty laughs along the way.

Paul Welch dazzles in his portrayal of Natasha, snarling one-liners to the naive Ted that sent the audience into sidesplitting laughter. His breezy performance is enough to win over all demographics and the stingiest of drag virgins. But we cannot forget, as Natasha asserts, that Christmas is the gayest season of all, in all senses of the word: “Come, they told me?” she cackles. “Fall on your knees?” she winks, while crooning other delightfully suggestive Christmas carols.

With top-notch jokes and a feel-good festive allure, With Bells On is a deserving addition to your holiday entertainment lineup—especially if you want to celebrate the gayest holiday around, minus all the clichéd tradition.

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