“Like everyone else, I saw the headline on New York Magazine in 1994,” recounts playwright Jeffery S. Jones. “The Drag Queen Had a Mummy in Her Closet,”, it read.
Apparently Dorian Corey, the popular star of the documentary ‘Paris is Burning’, literally had a skeleton in her closet. The dead body of a man named Robert Worley was discovered in a trunk when friends cleaned out her apartment after her death, leaving what NY Magazine called “a surreal murder mystery” for the police, whom Jones supposes were not particularly interested in breaking the case.
If this story sounds vaguely familiar, it may be because the popular TV show ‘Pose’ used it as a plotline recently, but they didn’t have the whole story.
The case remains unsolved today – unless you are inclined to believe the story told to Jones by a “frail gentleman in a woman’s fitted suit and a long silk scarf ” who went by the name of Velma. In her 70’s at the time, Velma revealed to Jones what everyone in the community knew, but would not reveal to the authorities. There were no clues in the police files, which Jones pored over in his research as he began to write his play, ‘Case Closed: The Dorian Corey Story’, which is set to open Sept. 10 at the Gene Frankel Theatre.
“I had met Dorian two times before and was mesmerized by her in ‘Paris is Burning’,” recalls Jones. “I started doing research. I looked at the police files and became obsessed with the story. I spent five years writing the play.” And one year of additional editing, afforded to him due to some sort of pandemic. “I spent the last year restructuring and editing,” he admits. “I got a little anal about the words and phrases.”
Casting was another story, as the initial auditions were done over Zoom, with callbacks eventually taking place in person. “There were thousands of out of work actors – we had about 150 applicants for each part,” Jones notes. “We really took our time with the casting process and are extremely happy with the cast.”
The set posed a challenge for the scenes in Corey’s apartment, as there wasn’t much visual reference material available. “You see a glimpse of her apartment in ‘Paris’, but not much. The crime scene photos only show the trunk and the closet.” Jones told his “extremely talented” set designer Peta McKenna what he wanted and “she just went crazy.” Dominique Mercado and Scott Stewart handled the costuming, which involved ” lots of glitter, glam, beads and dashikis,” according to Jones.
The second act goes back to the beginning of the story in 1967, a perilous time for the gay community in general and the drag community especially. “Dorian Corey was the beginning of the ‘Houses’, taking in people who had nowhere else to go and getting them back on their feet,” Jones explains. “It was kind of a gay finishing school.” Although the death of Robert Worley is obviously central to the tale, Jones focuses on “the family aspect” of the story.
“I don’t have an agenda as to what people take away from the play, ” Jones muses, “but one thing that I admire is the idea of choosing your own family. I believe that your chosen family is just as strong and important as your biological one.”
Another thing he believes in strongly is the play itself. “It’s really well written and I’m so excited for people to see it!” he enthuses. “I’m really excited to have a full audience!”
Ex-Brit turned Manhattan resident since 2008.