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Cape Cod’s New Impresario

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Actor, director, and playwright David Drake, after years of work with the Provincetown Theater, officially takes the helm this coming spring. | COURTESY: PROVINCETOWN THEATER

Old Cape Cod is really gonna rock, theatrically speaking, with the recent appointment of writer and actor David Drake as artistic director of the esteemed 13-year-old Provincetown Theater.

“Beginning in 2010, David Drake has built a wonderfully successful relationship with our theater community, staging shows for us as a freelance director,” said the theater’s board president, David Wilson. “And while we are grateful to our outgoing artistic director Tristan DiVincenzo for his terrific work the past three years, we are extremely excited by the fresh, caring, and creative vision that David is bringing to take us into the future.”

I met with Drake, who has seemingly been a presence in every cultured New Yorker’s life ever since a billboard on Seventh Avenue (subsequently used by Marc Jacobs) depicting him shirtless and touting his career-making “The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me” popped up in my Greenwich Village neighborhood back in 1992. We chatted at the Hudson Diner — the kind of establishment where a lot of Drake’s writing has been done — and he was filled with enthusiasm for his enviable new gig, even though lodgings are not provided with the job (which I had to ask).

IN THE NOH: David Drake moves in to head the Provincetown Theater

“I’m thrilled,” he said, “especially as Provincetown was pretty much where the American drama was born, with [Eugene] O’Neill and others, in the last century. I feel honored to help lead it into the 21st century. I want to revive key gay works as well as develop new ones. Plus I love this community, where I’ve been coming — and working — for years, the rich history, the wonderful people.”

Although the job doesn’t start until April, with a production of Kaufman & Hart’s “You Can’t Take It with You” as Drake’s first official offering, last month he staged a holiday revue, “A Very Townie Christmas,” which replaced a planned production of “A Christmas Carol” and a New Year’s gala canceled due to the theater’s outstanding debt of some $50,000 (a third of which had been covered by generous pledges as of our mid-December conversation). Drake has previously directed productions of “Our Town,” “The Weight of Water,” and “Slap & Tickle,” among others, at the Pro- vincetown Theater.

Drake acknowledged the responsibility he now faces, which includes balancing more challenging dramatic fare with the kind of commercial offerings that will appeal to summer residents and tourists, but he is optimistic and brought to the revue “the feel of a holiday party” and the hope it will “maybe become an annual event.”

“I want to take a real look at some older gay plays like Jane Chambers’ ‘Last Summer at Bluefish Cove,’ and see what’s there,” he said, “as well as reach out to playwrights today, many of them living in Provincetown, and to women, in particular, who comprise such a large part of the community.”

An artistic Cancer, Drake, 54, hails from Edgewood, Maryland, and was raised in Baltimore. When he was seven, his mother officially changed his surname from Dra- kula. Yes, we’re talking about the infamous vampire, aka Vlad the Impaler, and Drake’s search in Romania for his roots provided the basis for his 2002 one-man show, “Son of Drakula.”

But a decade before that, there was that Larry Kramer play: “Oh, you remembered that crazy big billboard! No one was doing anything like that back then, and it really helped get the word out, a result of someone brilliantly thinking outside the box. The play has had such a life, who would have known that an autobiographical monologue about my personal and political coming-of-age in New York would have such legs? It won an Obie, ran for a year, one of the longest running solo shows in New York, and then I took it on an international tour and a movie was made of it, by Tim Kirkman.

“Yes, Larry Kramer has seen it. He even came to the 20th anniversary performance in 2013 [which raised more than $60,000 for Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS and Sero Project, which battles HIV criminalization]. It had an all-star cast and was performed as an ensemble rather than solo piece, and I was taken with how well it worked that way, especially with wonderful actors like Brandon Cordero, Robin De Jesús, André De Shields, Claybourne Elder, Rory O’Malley, Anthony Rapp, and BD Wong.”

Charles Busch recognized Drake’s talent early on, and hired him to replace him in his own career-making “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom.”

“I was also his understudy in ‘The Divine Sister,’” Drake recalled. “I was able to play a variety of roles — butch and in drag — and he said there weren’t many who could real- y carry that off.”

A memorable acting gig was Drake’s Michael in the 1996 revival of the long unseen gay canon classic “The Boys in the Band” by Mart Crowley: “That was quite a cast — Chris Sieber, David Greenspan, James Lecesne — but it was hard. Because it’s really all about Michael, despite all the other colorful characters. I didn’t realize that until I did it, and it was hard work every night, carrying that role! I hope Jim Parsons [who is playing the part in the upcoming revival in 2018] realizes that. I almost feel like sending him a letter.”

Even without his recent appointment, Drake — who knew he was gay from an early age with his fascination for Barbie dolls, is currently single, and has been living with HIV for decades (“due to a bad choice”) — is one busy guy. Besides teaching at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, he’s a much in demand, super versatile director, working with artists like Taylor Mac, dancer/ choreographer Antonio Ramos, and two artists I recently saw who could not be more different.

“Porn to Be a Star,” which Drake helmed at the Stonewall Inn, featured gay porn star Chris Harder, who easily proved he has more talent than just winking at the camera (and I’m not talking eyes here), giving a raucous, merry, and sharply observed entré into his triple X-rated world.

“I’d been impressed by Chris when I saw him perform at the Slipper Club and then our mutual friend, Lola RocknRolla, suggested me to him as a director,” Drake said. “He’s a really triple threat talent, besides being charming.

“The Midwood Miracle” at Emerging Artists Theater’s New Works Festival on October 3, featured the deeply gifted singer-actress Deborah Karpel, who painted a hilariously authentic and very touching portrait of her highly individual, unconventional parents and her search for cultural roots in a 1960s “American Dream” boomtown of Queens. Drake didn’t direct Karpel here, but has worked with her over the years directing her “Songs My Mother Never Taught Me.”

When I told Drake how much I admire Karpel, he said, “Like you, I love Debbie, so sweet and talented, with this fabulous material at her fingertips.”

Updated 2:20 pm, September 4, 2018
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Reader feedback

PHILIP NEVITSKY says:
VERY INTERESTING AS AN OLD FRIEND OF DAVIDS SINCE 1989 AND WEVE LOST TOUCH I WOULD LOVE TO HEAR FROM HIM AS I AM VISITING NEW YORK IN JULY ITS PHILIP NEVITSKY MANCHESTER ENGLAND E MAIL absolutphilip11@googlemail.com
June 13, 10:28 am

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