It’s been three full decades since Betty White’s character Rose Nylund told a pointless story about her hometown of St. Olaf, Minnesota, and 30 years since her roommate, Dorothy Zbornak, threw her a withering stare in return. But for the last 20 years, four San Francisco drag queens have kept the flame of The Golden Girls alive with annual drag re-enactments at the Victoria Theatre.
Of course, they’re not perfect re-enactments, according to Heklina, who reprises the role of Dorothy during the show’s 20th annual run, Nov. 25-Dec. 23.
“We keep adding more and more jokes to it, and changing lines around,” she told The Standard by phone. “It’s turned into this big vaudeville thing.”
White died on New Year’s Eve, mere weeks before her 100th birthday. A television icon virtually since the dawn of the medium, it’s the sweetly doltish Scandinavian Rose who might be her enduring legacy—and playing her once again is Oasis owner D’Arcy Drollinger. Matthew Martin plays the ever-frisky Southern belle Blanche Devereaux and Holotta Tymes takes on the role of the diminutive Sicilian Sophia Petrillo, Dorothy’s wise (if blunt-spoken) mother.
Heklina confesses that she never watched the show during its original 1985-1992 run, as she was living in Iceland. Years later, it caught her eye at a Castro queer bar, and someone suggested she would be good at impersonating Bea Arthur, with her deadly comic timing and relatively deep voice. According to Heklina, the live show’s genesis lay with the late drag queen Cookie Dough, but it’s Drollinger who’s made it more professional over the years.
The troupe varies it up every year. This year, the two episodes are “Sisters of the Bride,” in which Blanche’s brother Clayton visits with his soon-to-be-husband, and “Journey to the Center of Attention,” in which Blanche forces a mopey Dorothy to come along to her favorite bar, only to be upstaged at the piano. It might be the funniest episode of all.
Heklina never met any of the show’s principal cast (although she had once been scheduled to do an event with Rue McClanahan, who dropped out due to ill health). She takes a certain pride in keeping The Golden Girls’ legacy alive as a sex-positive, queer-positive show centered on an ensemble cast of older women. It’s so popular that San Francisco will soon get a pop-up restaurant called Golden Girls Kitchen.
“When we started, it was definitely not this popular phenomenon that it is now,” Heklina said. “Now, every joe-schmo drag troupe has their own version.
“I refuse to go to any of them,” she added—a hint of Dorothy Zbornak creeping into her voice.
Astrid Kane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org