So the L-word Mila Kunis and I are kicking it with drinks and smokes in that intimate Seventh Street cabaret Wink's, enjoying drag diva Barbra Seville's Early Show-Girlie Show on a recent Sunday eve, when Seville returns to the stage from one of her many costume changes for a little witty repartee with the audience. Someone has informed the tall, bootylicious blonde that Kreme & Co. are in the hizzouse, and the Glamorous One, familiar with our steelo, works us into her bit.
"Okay, everyone, say hello to Kreme and Jett from the New Times column the Inferno," announces the femmy female impersonator, looking fabbo in a slinky pink dress, a rhinestone necklace and a pink butterfly in her hair. She then moves close to our table. "Now, which one of you is the lesbian?"
The crowd erupts in guffaws, including those of my lipsticker lieutenant and I, as P-town's lily-skinned RuPaul continues her clownin'.
"I love the column," she coos. "Now let me answer a few questions before you ask them. For me, drag is profession, not lifestyle. Underneath, I'm wearing tighty whities and a pair of tights. Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't. Sometimes you don't know where to put 'em, so I usually just put them in your mouth. And for an extra charge, in your butt."
Now the crowd's rolling, but Babs ain't through with us yet.
"I always thought you'd be more butch," Seville tells Jett, then turns to me. "You write her like she's a diesel dyke, honey."
"Nooo, really?" I reply.
"Why, she even wears deodorant, for God's sake," exclaims the cross-dressing comedienne. "And she's sitting right beside Newman from Seinfeld."
Following this shtick, the sultry Seville dives into an extended, lip-synched Bette Midler medley, after which her sisters in queenerie take their turns in the spotlight, one by one, to do their Milli Vanilli best with everything from Celine Dion and Chaka Kahn to Deee-Lite and Billie Holiday. Seville's revue, which also takes place on Friday nights under the name "Thank God It's Friday," includes a veritable smorgasbord of PHX drag, with a rotating cast of performers such as the chocolate-brown Miss Ebony, the Polynesian cutie Ineda Buffet, the sexy-slim Mya McKenzie, the stunning Chane Jordan, the curvaceous Regina Gizelle, and the ever-delovely Nikki Knowles.
Wink's presents drag extravaganzas every night of the week except for Monday, which is karaoke night. It's a cozy, friendly establishment where both straight and gay come for drinks and a show. There's no cover, though it's considered polite to tip the performers, so keep a stack of ones handy. Another pointer: There's no sign out front of the squat, brick building at 5707 North Seventh Street, but it's right next to Planned Parenthood, with whom Wink's shares parking, if not clientele.
The "perpetually 29-year-old" Seville (a.k.a. Richard Stevens) is a true drag icon in the Zona, whose widely read "Ask Barbra" advice column appears in the biweekly gay mag Echo. She's won numerous awards, such as Miss Gay AZ 2000 and Miss Gay Phoenix 1996, and, after witnessing the tart-tongued faux femme in action, I can see why she's so popular. (The uninitiated can preview her bodacious talents on her Web site, at www.barbraseville.com).
"I've been performing for 10 years now," explains Seville, swigging a brewski with us post-show. "Pretty much all the time at Wink's, which is my home bar. I tour a lot, but always with my drag in a bag. Like I said before, I'm not lifestyle. I'm originally from Cleveland, Ohio, and all my family is supportive. What else do you wanna know?"
"A lot of aspiring drag-stars look to you for guidance, so who do you look up to?" asks the J-grrl.
"I do have a drag-mother," she responds. "Her name is Pussy LeHoot. You could say she took me under her big ol' pussy wing and taught me a whole lot."
"Now tell us all about your breasts," I demand of the diva, batting my eyes.
"I have four sets," Her Royal Campiness tells us, pulling out one of her falsies to play show-and-tell. "These are from Walgreens. They're just bath sponges, and they're kinda sweaty. Then I have these others that are really expensive, silicone ones that bounce and have nipples."
"Are you oddly attracted to her?" Jett asks me, all of a sudden. "Because I'm kind of getting that vibe."
"A lot of straight guys don't know how to handle it," says Seville.
"Hmm, it could be the Barbara Eden eyes," I gush. "Or the fact that the only sex I've been getting of late has been hand-to-gland. Right now, if the wind blows in the right direction, I'm good for the weekend. No offense, Babs."
"None taken," she says.
Nearby is my other favorite drag-star, Ineda Buffet (alias Sammi Latu), a plump and luscious 20-something originally from the island of Tonga in the South Pacific. She regularly performs on Wednesdays at Wink's in her show Girlz Gone Wild with fellow performer Afeelya Bunz.
"My friends gave me the name Ineda Buffet because I love buffets," she confides. "Pretty much all the Chinese ones in town. That's how I get my cleavage. Well, that and duct tape."
"I have that too," I tell her. "At least we're all natural. How long have you been doing drag?"
"I just started this last year," she tells me. "It was something I fell into. A friend of mine, another queen named Chane Jordan, had something called the Chane Jordan Project and needed performers. So I did a benefit with her and found out I'm kind of good at it. I discovered I love performing."
"Do you think being Polynesian helps you look feminine?" queries my cohort, the lezzie Ali Landry.
"Maybe," she chuckles. "When I was growing up, we were taught the traditional dances, so that kind of helps with stage presence and how a woman should move."
"Ever get come-ons from pervy hets like Kreme here?" asks Jett.
"You know, I can't lie, because I'm pretty sure all the queens have been approached in that fashion," says the delicious Buffet. "But I live my life as a man. This is basically a hobby for me."
We decide to speak to some of the audience members, and begin with Gloria from Peoria, Wink's unofficial den mom, a middle-aged lady who visits the cabaret two or three times a week, sometimes more.
"A gay friend of mine brought me to a drag show about three years ago, and I've been fascinated ever since," she tells us. "When you see them as guys and then you see them as women, it's amazing. I've also gotten to know a lot of the drag queens personally, and I love them all."
"Do your friends and family know you come out to Wink's?" I query.
"Oh, yes," she says. "My daughter's fine with it. My grandson's not too thrilled, but I tell him I'm over 21, I can do what I want. It was only about a year after my husband passed away that I started doing this. I don't think I'd been in a bar five times in my life before that. How can I put it? I get love from all of them. They're very accepting, and I accept them. I used to go to Pookie's a lot, but now it's mainly Wink's."
Off in a corner table across from the bar are chef Marcellino Verzino and his enchanting wife, Sima. The Verzinos are the proprietors of Marcellino Ristorante (www.marcellinoristorante.com) at 1301 East Northern Avenue, and they're in Wink's tonight to enjoy the show and have a drink with a friend.
"We're having so much fun," declares the alluring Sima, a native of Rome, Italy, who moved to the PHX eight and a half months ago from Gotham with hubby Marcellino. "Being from New York and from Rome, this is a lovely touch for us. A nice, fresh moment for our evening."
"Do you think it's possible for a man to be more beautiful than a woman?"
Sima turns very serious: "No. But of course, it depends on the life you've led."
"Yeah, the life and the lighting," I reply, looking around. "I wonder where my aide-de-camp has gotten to."
I espy my muff-lovin' partner conversatin' with Miss Ebony, a tall, lanky queen who resembles the great Eartha Kitt, dressed as she is in a long, red gown with a red feather boa and fan. The ageless Miss Ebony, who has been performing for the last 39 years, is explaining to the Jettster the glorious history of drag as I walk up.
"Female impersonation is a very old, old art," the divine Miss Ebony is saying. "It goes back to the days of the Greek and Roman theater, and in Shakespeare. I mean, you have to wonder who was doing Romeo and Juliet back then."
"That's right," replies Jett. "I remember that from English Lit. All of the actors in Shakespeare's time were men."
"Exactly," Miss Ebony concurs. "That's why it's so important for people like yourselves to come out to places like this to learn and understand."
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"Or at least get fashion tips. Did you make this gown yourself?"
"Yes, most of the things I have, I design on my own," explains the diva. "I won a design award when I was very young, but my father thought it was sissy to be a dress designer. So I became a nurse. But when you wear 14s and 16s, it's kinda hard to buy off the rack."
"Tell me about it," I gripe. "You should try finding Hawaiian shirts in 3X. It's murder."
"Yeah," smirks Jett. "If Kreme gets any bigger, he can become a female impersonator, too. He's already got Sally Struthers and Kirstie Alley down pat."