Jackie Cox was a sweetheart in season 12 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” and though this dynamic queen finished in fifth place, she nonetheless won hearts and fans all over. Just cue up any of her videos on YouTube and scroll through the comments; they’re pretty much a love fest. And why not? Jackie is an articulate, funny, and completely fabulous character whose personality bursts off the screen.
Jackie is the creation of actor Darius Rose, and Jackie is as outspoken and passionate as she is glamorous. In fact, Jackie caused a bit of a controversy in her season when she walked the runway in a hijab, which celebrated Rose’s Persian heritage and provided her a platform to make a statement about representation. Since Jackie’s season, Rose has used that platform and fame to pursue his real passion, which is acting.
He landed a recurring character role on “Days of Our Lives,” who he says is “a fictional version of me. In fact, he’s appeared both as Jackie and out of drag, sometimes in the same episode. Of the character, he says, “It’s a somewhat devious version of Jackie Cox, who’s always trying to break up marriages and steal emeralds and things.
“It’s all been fun and, and what excites me are parts and roles where I get to bring some of myself to the piece — whether that’s my point of view as a person, as a drag queen, as a person of Middle Eastern descent, as a New Yorker,” Rose said. “All of those things are part of me that I love to bring to roles.” The roles that let him showcase and draw from all parts of himself are comparatively new, he said, at least in the 15 years since he graduated from college, which has provided many more opportunities.
Rose is currently starring in the extraordinary and brilliantly entertaining “Make Me Gorgeous” at the 46th Street Playhouse, where he’s playing Kenneth (later Kate) Marlowe. Over the course of 90 minutes, Marlowe tells the story of their life — and what a wild story it is. From religion to sex work to running a call boy service and ultimately through gender reassignment, it was a life as Oscar Wilde would have said, “crowded with incident,” and Rose brings Marlowe to life with electricity, verve, and irrepressible charm.
Marlowe, however, was born in 1926, and was most active in the ’40s and ’50s. Rose was born 59 years later. When he sat down with Gay City News, we asked how he related to Marlowe and approached the role.
“I’ve been lucky enough now with some of the fame from ‘Drag Race’ to be able to tour with my drag all around the country. And especially I find a lot of my drag resonates well with people from the Midwest, which I know maybe sounds random.
“It was really interesting to know that Kenny Marlowe — or ‘Mr. Kenny Marlowe,’ which was their drag persona — did drag in the Midwest, in places in Illinois and Indianapolis and in New Orleans. These are all places I’ve performed. So, to know that drag existed there, that drag was part of our culture back in the ’40s and ’50s is exciting to me. It makes me feel I’m carrying on a legacy. Hopefully, it allows people to see we’ve had a history of drag artistry, of burlesque artistry, in this country for a long time.”
Rose added that given this history (not to mention centuries of “gender illusion” in the theater), the current controversies about drag aren’t new. “I want to say drag has been part of American culture for a long time, and I love that one aspect of Kenny Marlowe’s life. And then to know that beyond that, Kenneth Marlowe went on to write so many amazing books, detailing all of the adventures. Then to know that Kate Marlowe went on to be one of the first people to legally change her gender marker in the state of California, are all exciting things that lead us to today. And there’s no way know this history unless we share it.”
Darius will be sharing this history with audiences at least till the end of February. His performance is much more than a school lesson; it’s a vibrant, heartfelt evocation of a largely forgotten individual who, by design and living, authentically opened up possibility for the generations that have followed.
“Make Me Gorgeous” | Playhouse 46 at St Luke’s | 308 West 46th Street | Mon, Weds, Thurs 7 p.m.; Fri, Sat 8 p.m.; Sat 2 p.m.; Sun 3 p.m. through February 25 | $49-$99 (VIP package $139) | 90 mins, no intermission | Tickets at GorgeousPlay.com