If Leslie Jordan didn’t exist we’d have to invent him, this irrepressible, garrulous Chattanooga pixie who got through a Southern Baptist childhood and stirrings of Gay Lib and lived triumphantly to tell the tale. His latest monodrama “Fruit Fly,” in its world preem at the Celebration, goes heavy on the nostalgic reminiscence and light on the politics, with a sentimental message of social tolerance and self-acceptance built in.
Jordan is our latter-day Oscar Levant, raconteur extraordinaire. Levant had his music while Jordan has his acting (he was Megan Mullally’s nemesis on “Will & Grace” and Emma Stone’s boss in “The Help”), but in both men, their genius can be found in their talk.
As comfortably as Jordan wanders about Jimmy Cuomo’s antebellum-tinged parlor set, you can just as readily imagine him rapt in cornpone chat with Jack Paar about Barbara Sinatra-coiffed mama Miss Peggy Ann who, he remembers fondly, “created a secret garden where it was O.K. for little boys to play with dolls.”
The Jordan matriarch beams down at us in the family slideshow projected upstage, which isn’t to imply she took her little boy’s unconventional sexuality to her bosom immediately. Enduring a husband’s early death in a plane crash and a son’s dicey foray into drag nitelife, she falls prey to a psychosomatic illness right out of Flannery O’Connor, the inability to keep her eyes open (unless she has to, in which case she props ’em right open, God love her). A climactic invite to a gay Alaskan cruise finally brings her around.
Jordan animates his anecdotes with verve and impromptu audience asides, whipping out impressions of the likes of Miss Odessa (besotted, walleyed madam of Miss Odessa’s Goodtime House) as unexpectedly as he threw that cartwheel in “The Help.” And once he describes drag compadre Miss Lily White’s prize-winning routine, it’s guaranteed you’ll never listen to Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” the same way again.
This slight but engaging material might seem more substantial if the lighting weren’t so patchy, instruments helter skelter as if hung during one of those Gulf hurricanes. Helmer David Galligan needs to ride herd on designer Matthew Brian Denman to contrive a fuller, more flattering wash.