Theodora, She-Bitch of Byzantium
Written by Charles Busch. Starring Jef Valentine. Directed by Russell Blackwood. Through Aug 16 at the Hypnodrome, 575 10th St. (at Bryant), S.F. Tickets are $25-$34.50; call 377-4202 or visit www.thrillpeddlers.com.
Lucia di Lammermoor
Music by Gaetano Donizetti. Libretto by Salvadore Cammarano. Starring Natalie Dessay. Directed by Graham Vick and Marco Gandini. Through July 5 at War Memorial Opera House, 3012 Van Ness (at Grove), S.F. Tickets are $15-$290; call 864-3330 or visit www.sfopera.com.
Meanwhile, as bonkers as Theodora is, there's something stately at its center that lends the drag drollery an unexpected air of gravitas. That something, or, rather, that someone, is Valentine's Theodora. Dressed in Fayette Hauser's gorgeous, figure-caressing costumes that alternately make the performer look like Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra and Robin Hood as he might be played by Tinkerbell, Valentine commands the Hypnodrome's tiny stage like a true empress. In his manifesto for the legendary drag theater troupe, the Ridiculous Theatre Company, actor, playwright, and founder Charles Ludlam states: "Treat the material in a madly farcical manner without losing the seriousness of the theme." Valentine perfectly carries out Ludlam's vision.
In these two very different productions, the ridiculous is ultimately eclipsed by the sublime. The world seems at once beautiful and frightening, familiar and strange thanks to the artistry of divas Dessay and Valentine.