As the sun set recently on the East Bay, an unlikely gaggle of gays descended on the city of Concord, packing the West Wind Solano Drive-In to catch the Frameline Festival debut of D’Arcy Drollinger’s raucous film, “Shit & Champagne.”
It was—honestly—a lot more than a gaggle, owing to a convergence of bittersweet fortune: Drollinger has been the darling of CNN, New York Times, and soon, Bon Appétit magazine, discussing the highly successful “Meals on Heels” service that has drag queens driving food delivery during the pandemic, serving up performances du jour at varied destinations.
And oh yes, the pandemic, which parched the gay community this year of its typical nightlife scene and summer soirees, Pride, Dore, Folsom and Guerneville retreats; the list goes on. I for one was happy to feel a sense of normalcy amidst the chaos that’s been this year. In Concord, of all places.
The film was also hotly anticipated. Drollinger adapts the raunchy, crude play first brought to a San Francisco stage in 2014 at the now-closed Rebel, and shown again when his club, SF Oasis, opened a year later in SoMa. The play saw two sequels since its debut, and in 2018, Drollinger launched an Indiegogo campaign to bring the original stage version to film, raising more than $10,000.
In it, Champagne Horowitz Jones Dickerson White (“So I’ve been married a couple a times, it’s none of your f—king business!” she says), is a resident stripper of the fictional Sha-Boom-Boom Room in San Francisco. Out on the street, she arrives just in time to watch her latest fiancé gunned down by a pair of thugs. He sputters clues to his demise as he dies in her arms: “Sex, drugs, Dixie Stampede.”
“Is that a haiku?” Champagne asks.
Many familiar faces I’ve seen in the sequels return for the film. James Arthur plays the over-the- top gay sidekick, and Matthew Martin is the incomparably evil, high-kicking Dixie Stampede.
Steven LeMay returns in perhaps my favorite role: the best friend who dies. I’m not sure how else to describe that, except in the Champagne universe, LeMay is like the Kenny of “South Park.” In “Shit & Champagne,” his character is the adopted half stepsister and roommate of Champagne, and also a calf model. Her glorious legs eventually reach their end in a Nancy Kerrigan sort of way. “Living a life without perfect calves isn’t a life at all!” she laments.
Other veterans include Adam Roy as one of Stampede’s goons—although I remember him as a detective in the other plays—and Nancy French as a tired, hapless stripper. Even in the pandemic, French opened the premiere on Sept. 17 in a recorded stage show that played on the West Wind screens as cars rolled in.
Take the movie title as a warning. I somehow thought this would be another sequel before realizing only once at the premiere that it was the original, and wound up watching several characters crap their pants. Drollinger’s crude humor is not my cup of tea—to say the least—but the voice work and physical comedy performed by the entire cast are why it works.
“D’Arcy’s work is high camp, and in some weird way, it’s both a throwback and updated,” said Geoffrey Benjamin, a former co-owner of SF Oasis who recently sold his stake and moved to Long Beach.
I spoke this week to Benjamin and Heklina, who often served as Drollinger’s public partner in crime in drag. Heklina, too, stepped into the background last year, moving to Palm Springs with plans to keep a foothold in San Francisco. She told me this week, however, that the pandemic forced her to give up her apartment in The City.
She also clarified a narrative I felt I heard and read in stories: that D’Arcy is the one left running Oasis. And while that is largely the case, Heklina remains a silent investor, and there are other investors, too.
“D’Arcy and I go way, way, way back. He is dear friend of mine, we are very close partners. And we’re still entwined because of the Golden Girls show at Oasis and other stuff. I really admire his work ethic, and I think he’s incredibly loyal,” Heklina said in a phone call, but then added: “I think he needs some help right now.”
The story is one we’re familiar with by now: the pandemic has thrown many local businesses in peril, and it’s served as a death knell for controversial gay bar Badlands, and The Stud, a queer institution. D’Arcy’s story has been, in contrast, reminiscent of a phoenix rising from the ashes. I sat down with him this week, too, and he said Oasis is still struggling to pull through it all.
Oasis runs shows weekly in late afternoons and early evening in a street-level parklet and on the roof. D’Arcy sat down with me literally on his 10-minute breaks between sets, after I caught his closing act of an evening show that had him chasing a bus down 11th St. People have been singing his praises, but I wanted to really know how he was doing amid all the changes.
“If things were normal, it would still be overwhelming. This is beyond overwhelming,” he said, and then got poetic. “It’s too big to be scared of … It’s like if a shadow in the night is coming up behind you, that’s scary. But if the shadow is so big, it just looks like the night sky.”
A lot of positive notes from him I feel were logical to tell a journalist, but knowing Drollinger now for half a decade, I feel the pandemic and the change in ownership has actually energized him.
“This year is not what I thought it would be, but all these amazing things happened because of COVID,” Drollinger said.
He touched on the positive publicity and getting drag queens gigs through the federal Paycheck Protection Program, and also development of the bar’s YouTube channel and “Hot Trash,” a series of videos recapping news, politics and gossip that reminds me of Phil DeFranco meets Seth Meyers meets TMZ, but in drag.
“I’ll let you in on a secret: he likes it. He likes being that busy,” Heklina told me. “He’s not happy unless he’s so busy he wants to kill himself.”
A couple others also sung Drollinger’s praises to me.
“In the mid-1990s, I was putting together shows at the Polk Street bar Kimo’s as part of the drag troupe the Fishstix, with Glamamore and Staci Gives. D’Arcy was already making waves with the band Enrique and her multitude of rock musicals,” said Juanita More. “I asked her to perform one night and she brought the house down–lip-syncing ‘Dedicated to the Press’ by Betty Davis. Earlier this year Glama and I asked her to reprise that number for the show ‘Good Drag’ we were putting on at her club Oasis. She nailed it 25 years later–still giving us 150 percent. I can appreciate that.”
Poly Poptart, an Oakland drag queen who participated in Meals on Heels and performed at Oasis this year, said working with Drollinger was “one of a kind.”
“During my last gig at Oasis, she had a lot to manage with hosting shows on the roof and the parklet, and still made time to Kiki with the performers before and after the show. She makes performers feel special.”
I asked Oasis staff to whip up a cocktail that Drollinger would like while he was hostessing, and they brought me an Aperol Spritz. He scrunched his face later when he saw it. “So that is a good drink,” he said. “But I’ll get you something we’re doing with custom juices.”
Soon a cocktail with Grey Goose vodka and soda water arrived, “a low-cal custom White Claw,” Drollinger told me.
That night’s version was infused with a blackberry juice, Drollinger calling it a BBC, or a Blackberry Claw. He asked for a refill as the night drew to a close, and a server regretfully informed Drollinger they were out of blackberry. It was the first time that night I had seen him disappointed. “All right,” he said. “Maybe with a bit of cranberry?”
Bar info: SF Oasis, 298 11th St., S.F.; (415) 795-3180, sfoasis.com
• 1.5 ounces Aperol
• Prosecco of choice
• Soda water
Add shot of Aperol and fill glass with Prosecco. Top with a splash of soda, and garnish with rosemary and orange zest. Serve over ice.
• 1.5 ounces premium vodka of choice
• Splash of simple syrup
• Splash of fresh blended blackberry juice
• Soda water
Layer in vodka, simple syrup and fresh-blended blackberry juice, then fill the glass with soda water and serve over ice.
Saul Sugarman is a San Francisco-based writer, event producer, and apparel designer. Last Call with Saul appears every other Sunday in the Examiner. He is a guest columnist and his opinions are not necessarily that of the Examiner.