"The minute a man puts on a dress, something very theatrical happens. It's funny." So says visual artist David Rohn in explaining his latest creation: the pilot episode for the very theatrical Adora Adora, a television sitcom he wrote, directed, and in which he has a minor acting role. The actual star of the show is Rohn's significant other, Danilo de La Torre, a.k.a. Adora the drag queen, along with cohorts Taffy Lynn and Damien Devine.
A first-time scriptwriter, Rohn hopes to use TV, which he calls "the preeminent medium of our culture," to reach a wide audience and to highlight the dragsters he considers more than a bunch of eccentric guys who like to play dressup. "Drag culture is an art form," he argues. "That's a more accepted idea now than it used to be. I thought there was so much talent out there that wasn't getting much play. And the whole drag thing is so visual."
Getting the visual part on tape wasn't as easy as it seemed. In early 1996 Rohn devised a script for an episode and attempted to shoot it. He spent $300 of his own money; the entire cast worked for free. Owing to a lack of funds and some technical snags, the resulting footage was distilled into an eleven-minute trailer, which starred Adora and included another drag queen, Marvella, and DJ JoJo Odyssey. Screened before a standing-room-only crowd at a 1996 Alliance for Media Arts benefit, the short film was a colorful comic romp about Adora buying a new dress.
Though not quite a full-length episode, the eleven-minute segment was not a total loss. Rohn submitted it to the Dade Human Rights Foundation (an organization that supports gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender causes) and scored a $2500 grant. The money allowed him to enlist the aid of the Alliance and to produce the 30-minute pilot, which will premiere Thursday at the Alliance Cinema.
Shot in and around Miami Beach, the pilot is more sumptuous visually and more tangled in plot than the trailer. It revolves around the love troubles of Daphne, Adora's best friend (played by Taffy Lynn) who is, according to Rohn, "between husbands and between careers." Adora's maid Domina (played by Damien Devine) gives Daphne a love potion so she can seduce her unresponsive boyfriend. Of course Adora gets her hands on the brew and slips a few drops to her husband, Teddy Behr, portrayed by Rohn.
Fluffy as it may sound, the episode is not all outrageous antics, too much makeup, and glamorous gowns. Under the latex lies subtext. "What it's really about is people trying to manipulate other people," explains Rohn, a former teenage TV junkie who cites as influences the movies of flamboyant Spanish director Pedro Almodovar and episodes of I Love Lucy and the Dick Van Dyke Show. "Lucy is timeless," he says. "The way she interacts with people, the way she communicates, the comic aspects of what everyone goes through. Dick Van Dyke is also about the trouble people have communicating and how they iron it out together with their mates and their friends. And Almodovar really covers contemporary culture well."
Even in these relatively enlightened times, a show about a zany drag queen may be a hard sell compared to anything about nearly any happily married straight couple, but Rohn is undeterred. He and his crew hope to produce more episodes of Adora Adora if they can find the funds. But don't expect the fledgling auteur to become a prima donna anytime soon. "I'm not a director," Rohn says modestly. "I don't have directing experience, and I didn't go to director's school. Having written the script, I had a clear idea of what I wanted, but it's hard to feel like I can order people around when I'm not paying them!"