Most people don’t make their theater debut in Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, an iconic, seven-and-a-half-hour, two-part, Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play that took on AIDS, Mormonism, democracy, climate change, and immigration more than 25 years ago.
Caldwell Tidicue, known as Bob the Drag Queen, isn’t most people.
Tidicue, the Season 8 winner of the Emmy-winning reality show, RuPaul’s Drag Race, garnered a lot of fans with his wit and talent and “Purse first” catchphrase on the show. Playwright Tony Kushner, the author of Angels in America, is one of those fans. He got in touch and asked Tidicue to audition for the role of Belize in the play’s current three-month run at Berkeley Rep.
Tidicue got the part. It was an honor for Kushner to want him to audition, Tidicue says, but he seems pretty relaxed about making his theater debut in the epic play.
“I’m really into rising to the occasion,” Tidicue said. “I don’t scare very easily.”
Working with the cast, which includes Stephen Spinella — who won two Tonys for his Prior on Broadway and now plays real-life lawyer Roy Cohn, a mentor to Donald Trump — is great, Tidicue says. He also loves working with Tony Taccone, the artistic director of Berkeley Rep, who commissioned the play at San Francisco’s Eureka Theater where it premiered in 1991, and who directs this run of Angels.
“Tony is great — he doesn’t have an ego at all, and he’s a pretty big deal,” Tildicue said. “He can just say, ‘Hey, I was wrong. That was a bad idea, and I shouldn’t have done it.’ ”
In the play, Belize is a nurse and the best friend of Prior, whose boyfriend, Louis, leaves him upon finding out Prior has AIDS. Tidicue was familiar with the play from his acting classes in college, and he saw the HBO version that Mike Nichols directed in 2003. Tidicue says it’s shocking to the audience how much the ideas about race relations and conservatives and liberals are the same as during Ronald Reagan’s America, when the play is set.
Along with Belize, Tidicue plays a fantastical character, Mr. Lies, from the International Order of Travel Agents, who plays the oboe and appears to the Valium-addicted Harper Pitt, with a gay Mormon husband, and takes her to the Antarctic. (“Cold shelter for the shattered. No sorrow here, tears freeze.”)
“Belize isn’t a far cry from myself — a Black drag queen who lives in New York City,” Tidicue said. “But I didn’t attack him as a crazy, over-the-top character. Mr. Lies is more over the top. He’s so different than me. He’s older than I am, and I thought of him as having kind of the timbre of a jazz player.”
Tidicue loved being on RuPaul’s Drag Race, which he says is unlike anything else on TV.
“There has never been this many queer people, queer people of color, trans women, trans women of color, on TV telling their true stories as opposed to playing dead hookers on CSI,” he said. “RuPaul’s Drag Race is truly people telling their own stories. It’s an amazing show.”
While he’s here, Tidicue hasn’t stopped doing drag. He performs at SoMa drag club Oasis in every other Monday.
“I got to keep paying bills when I leave here, right? So I’ve developed a show that I’m going to take on the road when I leave here,” he said. “My Mind is a Dangerous Neighborhood is the working title, but we’re thinking of changing it to Crazy Black Lady, which I think is funny. It’s an idea of me using lip sync and stand up comedy to interpret the concept of losing your mind onstage. It’s a real fun, raucous show.”
Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, through July 22 at Berkeley Rep, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley. $50-$100; 510-647-2949 or berkeleyrep.org
Bob The Drag Queen Mondays! May 21, June 4, June 18, July 2, July 16, Oasis, 298 11th St. $20; email@example.com