Let’s start with pronouns. If we are talking about Cory O’Niell Walker, a classically trained singer who grew up in the gospel tradition, we’ll use he or she. Makes no difference to him/her. But when talking about O’Niell Walker’s alter-ego, Cookie Diorio, mother of the House of Diorio and drag star extraordinaire, then only she will do. Cookie insists.
And Cookie — in the persona of Mabeline “Grinchester” Diorio, better known as the ex-wife of the Grinch who stole Christmas — will lay out the whole traumatic Christmas-stealing scenario in Mabeline’s You Really Are a Heel, presented by the Bearded Ladies Cabaret Co. and the House of Diorio at the Ruba Club.
“Mabeline knows the whole history, and she’s ready to share it because she lived it,” Cookie said. “Mabeline is a member of the house of Diorio, and all the members are embodied by me. They all play on and draw on different aspects of my personality and they all express different elements of my artistic expression.
“Mabeline is a character, who, as the ex-wife of the Grinch, is constantly processing her past and the relationship she had, moving through the world, and trying to navigate the idea of lost love.”
Like Cookie, in certain circumstances, “if Mabeline thinks it, she’s going to say it. She’s very forward, very brassy, absolutely truthful and honest with the way she is relating to things around her.”
In his younger years, O’Niell Walker fell in love with opera. Besides having sung with Opera Philadelphia as part of its chorus, operatic arias accompany his cooking, his cleaning, his showering. “It is the basis for everything in my life, especially in my artistic expression. I have devoted so much to the art form. It was my air, my food, my outlet. It was my raison d’être.”
And drag, Cookie said, “is super-sparkly. When I’m in drag, I feel so powerful. I feel like drag is my superpower. The words Black femme magic are in the air right now. It’s when I become a superhero to myself and for myself.”
As for the Grinch and Mabeline, Cookie said she’d like her audience to watch the show and, in the holiday spirit, find “joy, strength, release.”
‘A Christmas Carol’ for the community
Hedgerow Theatre Company’s executive artistic director, Marcie Bramucci, understands the obvious question: Why do so many theater companies stage productions of A Christmas Carol, the Dickens’ classic about a lonely, selfish man who reawakens to love?
And at Hedgerow, she said the answer is easy. It’s about community — the Rose Valley artistic community that supports the theater. This year’s cast numbers 33 — “a company of adult performers, a robust ensemble of youth performers” all on stage for the 28th anniversary of the show, she said. That doesn’t count the rest of the crew: ushers, techs, box office people.
“Patrons, shop owners — there is a way in which this show has touched the lives of virtually everyone around here,” she said.
Bramucci said she wishes the show would be the moneymaker that some say it is. But at Hedgerow, A Christmas Carol is an expensive yet joyful undertaking and one that Bramucci values.
For her, theater is about community. “The word community can be overloaded,” she said. She defines it as any group united by a common element — it could be geography, age, race, culture, and of special interest to her, people with different abilities.
“I’ve always been interested in delving very deeply into communities and finding what interests the community has and how theater can be leveraged to meet those needs,” she said.
Directing A Christmas Carol, playing through Dec. 24, is Hedgerow’s former executive artistic director, Penelope Reed. “It’s very important that she be at the helm of this. She knows this play inside and out and she’s the heart of this production,” Bramucci said.
“Everybody in this production feels its message in their bones,” Bramucci said. “Right now, we need an opportunity for community gathering and to hold kindness in our hearts year-round. It’s really important.”
Through Dec. 24 at Hedgerow Theatre Co., 64 Rose Valley Rd., Rose Valley. For tickets, information, hedgerowtheatre.org or 610-565-4211. Proof of vaccination, masks required.
‘What the Constitution Means to Me’
When playwright Heidi Schreck was 15, she earned her college tuition by winning constitutional debate competitions across the United States. Years later, as an adult, Schreck returned to America’s founding document as the inspiration for What the Constitution Means to Me, now on stage at the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton.
The play, directed by Oliver Butler and starring Cassie Beck, traces the relationship between four generations of women and the founding document that shaped their lives. What the Constitution Means to Me was an off-Broadway hit before it moved to Broadway, where it was nominated for two Tony awards.
Through Dec. 12, McCarter Theatre Center, 91 University Place, Princeton. For tickets, information, 609-258-2787, mccarter.org. Proof of vaccination, masks required.
‘Tuesdays with Morrie’
Masquerade Theatre Co., a South Jersey theater company founded by husband-and-wife team Tommy Balne and Megan Knowlton Balne, makes its Philadelphia debut with Tuesdays with Morrie at the Louis Bluver Theatre at the Drake. Tony Killian plays Morrie joined by Isaiah Showell as Mitch in this heartwarming story about a special relationship, based on the best-selling memoir by Mitch Albom and Jeffrey Hatcher.
Through Dec. 12, Louis Bluver Theatre at the Drake, 302 S. Hicks St. For tickets, information, 856-441-0126, masqueradetheatre.org. Proof of vaccination, masks required.
‘Magic Flowers’ is short, sweet
Short and sweet describe Magic Flowers — one sweet story in a (very) short one-act romance started and finished in 30 minutes at Studio;Space in Somers Point. A homeless person sells a lonely young woman some magic flowers promising they’ll bring love. Do they? What do you think?
SPQR Stage Co. offers Magic Flowers written and directed by Bill Sterritt, who runs Studio;Space. Evie Brandford-Altsher and Dave Polgar take starring roles.
Weekends through Dec. 19 at Studio;Space, 112 Woodland Ave., Somers Point. For tickets, information, 323-793-2153 or studiospacespnj.com. Masks recommended and available, but not required.