Women, drag kings act in gender-bending sendup of

When Michele Mahoney first saw Mike Nichols’ classic “The Graduate” in its original 1967 release, she was both inspired and disappointed.

“I related to Ben (Dustin Hoffman), questioning my role in a pre-feminist era and wanting something very different from what I had been raised to value,” Mahoney said.

“The women in the ‘The Graduate’ didn’t fare well. In fact, all films that depicted women following their desires as opposed to staying ‘in their place’ at that time suffered the consequences. Mrs. Robinson lost her daughter, husband, and most importantly herself.”

Mahoney re-envisions Nichols’ picture in her gender-bending comedy “The Undergrad,” which screened last month at the Empty Bottle. Mahoney turns “The Graduate’s” mixed sense of liberation on its ear in “The Undergrad,” in which all the major roles, male and female, are played by women and drag kings.

“I wanted to make a film that did not punish women for being strong sexual beings, that celebrated diverse sexualities, desires, and relationships,” Mahoney noted. “Sometimes humor is the best way to introduce difference. I wanted to do that without making fun of desire or relationships and I wanted it to be thought provoking.”

Mahoney, a performer in the Chicago Kings drag troupe, plays Mr. Robinson. The film stars fellow Kings Sam Stalling and Kristin Lohr, along with Barbara DeGenevieve, Abina Manning, and drag king pioneer Diane Torr (“Venus Boyz”).

DPs Marie-Joelle Rizk and KJ Mohr shot the 39- minute picture over 19 days in spring 2002. The film premiered in November at the Reeling 2003 Chicago Lesbian and Gay Film Festival.

A former location scout for “ER,” Mahoney teaches film at the School of the Art Institute. Her films “Acrobats and Sword Swallowers” and “Midwestern Hospitality” have screened around the world. She’s in early development stages on her first feature, about her experience in the early ’70s discovering Denny B., the Rhinestone Cowboy, the lone drag king in Mahoney’s native St. Louis.

“Undergrad” producers were Heather Lee Chappell, and Kristen Cox and Amber K. Mill, who both appear in the film. Music and sound design by Jason Ward.

See moefilm.com/theundergrad. ? by Ed M. Koziarski, edk@homesickblues.com.