Character 'Actress' De De DeVille Salutes Great Cinema Divas In 'Die, Mommie, Die!'
Anyone staging Charles Busch's play Die, Mommie, Die! is advised to cast a male actor as its lead female character. Playing the fading movie star Angela Arden at Musical Theater Heritage in Crown Center is Late Night Theatre veteran De De DeVille, whose given name is David Krom.
As part of our monthly series Actors Off-Script, Krom talks about a 20-plus year career that began on a dare.
You grew up as David Krom. What was your journey like to becoming De De DeVille? When did that happen?
"The actual switch over probably happened in college but I think the groundwork was laid many, many moons prior to that.
Obviously it's a deep-seated thing that just eventually found its true home in college when I attended a show at a bar in Topeka. I was like, 'Eh, I could do that.' My friends, of course, at the table were like, 'Dare you,' and not that I'm competitive at all, but I took them up on the dare. And little did I know when I picked a name and did a number that 21 years later (laughs) I would still be doing it."
As De De, you're performed in plays, films, musicals, cabarets. Can you describe for our listeners who might never have seen De De what she looks like?
"Classic old Hollywood, I think. I think if I had to sum her up the quickest way is the way they used to groom stars in the studio system. I try to put myself together in a way that, like, I've been groomed. You know, like there's a group of people that put her together. In reality, it was just me."
Is it accurate to say that you are self-producing this production of Charles Busch's Die, Mommie, Die!?
"Yes, I am. And it's terrifying."
Talk about that as an actor, an artist. You're now wearing a different hat.
"It's rough and hard and terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time."
Can you tell me what Die, Mommie, Die! is about? I know it's kind of a take-off of old movies.
"Yeah, it's definitely a take-off on the genre of '50s and '60s films. It's set in in 1967 in Beverly Hills. It's an aging film star whose career has sort of plummeted in the last 12 years after the death of her twin sister, Barbara.
So you have a moment where Angela's unhappy. She decides to murder her husband, ends up doing so, also murders the maid. The children are suspicious of her. Her lover's suspicious of her. Her children decide to drug her with acid, LSD, one night to admit that she murdered their father."
How would you describe (Die, Mommie, Die! writer) Charles Busch to people unfamiliar with his career? And what does Charles Busch mean to performers like yourself?
"I adore him. He's witty, funny, and subtle about it with a few broad strokes thrown in to keep you in. He, as an artist, has a love of the genre and that's what comes across in the work. It's borderline camp. I don't think it goes all the way.
He means so much to me. We're doing nuanced portraits of characters who happen to be female more so than a campy parody of a woman. The people we play, we love them. We adore them. And we try to bring them to life from the heart."
Even when you're not dressed like De De, people call you that rather than David. Do you consider De De an alternate persona, a character, a drag queen?
"I mean, I think we're one and the same. I think as a performer I just now go by De De because 21 years in the business, I'm pretty established under that name.
I did do Noises Off last year at The Barn under my given name and it just confused people, so I think from here forward, I'm going to march on with the name DeVille because you spend 21 years building a name and a reputation, it's really hard to take it away. De De runs the show and David's there to help out and make sure she looks good."
That's interesting that you did a show as David. Was that a completely different kind of experience for you?
"Well, I've only done drag for 21 years, but I've done theater for almost 30 — so it was just returning sort of to my roots. It was a little odd because having been very lucky to have exclusively performed in female roles for 20 years, it was a complete change of mannerism and stance from what I've been used to doing. But it was sort of nice to step back into that and I will probably be pursuing it a little more often in the future."
Society's tolerance for the LGBT community has certainly changed since you started performing as De De.
What does that feel like from your perspective? How has that looked from the stage?
"It's been interesting watching the demographics change. But people are people. It's just how open they are to the world around them. I don't think it's necessarily gay or straight, that kind of stuff. It's just about how do you feel about treating another human being."
The Actors Off-Script series is supported by the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency.
Steve Walker is a freelance arts reporter and film critic at KCUR 89.3. He can be reached at email@example.com.