As a contestant on Season 6 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, BenDeLaCreme placed fifth amongst fifteen queens — which seemed about right to me at the time. BenDeLaCreme (or just DeLa for short) always had a vibrant personality on the show, and clearly had talent to spare. She developed a fan following, but to me there was always something that seemed to be holding her back from the brilliance of her “top three” peers that season, and especially winner Bianca Del Rio — an intangible inhibition you couldn’t quite put your finger on.
As a result, I admit I didn’t expect much from her solo show Inferno A-Go-Go, now playing at the Laurie Beechman Theatre for a three-week run ending on August 19th. I expected what so many other queens do — a couple of lip-synced songs, some nice costumes, and some patter. The reality of Inferno A-Go-Go, though, is more akin to a dragsterpiece: a topsy-turvy full-throttle journey through hell (don’t worry — a colorful, funny hell) with a devilish drag guide in DeLa.
DeLa, a bubbly queen with the voluptuous look of Varla Jean Merman and a sugary-sweet demeanor, starts the show by setting up the premise — after performing a show last year at the Laurie Beechman about science (Cosmos — a play both on the TV show and the cocktail), she developed a fixation with the concept of hell. So, loosely inspired by Dante Alighieri’s Inferno (about which she sings, “Everybody says they read it but they didn’t”), she set out to create a show that would bring an audience through all nine circles of hell, straight to Satan’s throne.
So, with a dark premise and a silly Beach Blanket Bingo-inflected tone, DeLa brings us straight to hell and manages to make the trip enjoyable. DeLa, in addition to leading the way on stage, also plays a handful of other characters (including a cruise director, a pair of gays trapped in a hell-desert, and Satan himself) in incredibly well-integrated videos directed by her (with editing help from Shane Wahlund). DeLa also designed and voices several puppets for the show that play an integral role in her journey.
Along with the show’s many fanciful, fun moments (including a hell-themed version of Miley Cyrus’s “Party in the U.S.A.” and a cover of The Chantels’ “Look in My Eyes” with accompanying Medusa girl-group footage), DeLa isn’t afraid to take the theme of hell to darker, more introspective places. At a particularly moving moment in the show, DeLa comes across a harpy (portrayed by one of her puppets) guarding a tree, the leaves of which we’re told are the many suicides who’ve ended up in hell. It’s a poignant turn in the show, one that brings the evening’s early revelries into perspective as DeLa begins to tie together A-Go-Go‘s themes, of hell not just as a place but as a concept. It’s a credit to her writing skills in constructing the evening that she lets us live in the pain of this scene, with DeLa, the harpy, and a tree full of fluttering leaves, without resorting to a laugh to jog us out of the moment before it’s had its full effect.
For those who watched BenDeLaCreme on Drag Race (and even for those who didn’t), it’s impressive to see what she’s accomplished here with this show — not just as a drag queen, taking on the live performance aspect, but in designing videos and puppets, and as a writer crafting a coherent, even moving, script. Amongst a seemingly endless sea of Drag Race graduates (and other drag queens), DeLa has now proved herself right around the top of the pack, at least with this show. Through A-Go-Go, she’s made a devoted fan out of me. Hell, I’d even take a return trip to hell to spend another hour and change in her company.