A darling of the city’s cabaret stages, Doris Dear is the creation of Staten Island-born actor Ray DeForest and is based on his fascinating mom Taffy. While rarely mixing it up with New York’s nightlife drag stars, Doris has a huge and diverse following all her own. She returns to the Triad Theater this week with a brand new Christmas show… join Thotyssey as we get down with Ms. Dear!
Thotyssey: Hello Ray / Doris, thanks for talking to us tonight! How is the holiday month treating you so far?
Doris Dear: It’s been a crazy, busy, joyous month so far, and there is still lot’s to come! Oh …hi by the way!
Hello! Here’s an important question… what do you think about the sudden demonizing of “Baby It’s Cold Outside?”
Well, my usual take on life as a whole is that if a group is being offended by something then we should respect that. The language we use is constantly changing. Keeping up with things is never easy.
That said, this one I think may take things out of context. If you look at almost any song written 74 years ago, you could look at it as being offensive. Viewing life in the past through a modern lens is difficult. Yet, an overwhelming majority requested not to pull it. So what do we do now? It’s a tightrope to walk, and never an a easy one.
I do think that context is a lost sense these days! So okay, let’s put you in some context! Like your character Doris, you’re a Staten Island native, right?
Yes, born and raised on the Island of Staten!
How was that for you? I think of SI as being so culturally unique and distant from the other boroughs. Even the accent is so different!
LOL. Yes it is. Staten Islanders are a breed altogether, different than the rest of the boroughs. I do think each borough has it’s own particular identity.
I just turned 60! Growing up on the Island in the late 50’s, 60’s and 70’s was really wonderful – when the Island was still underdeveloped, and there were small neighborhoods and lots of open land to explore. I spent my childhood wandering the woods, catching salamanders and watching turtles and native birds, playing hide-and-seek and “superheros” with the neighborhood kids. Luckily, I had a mother and father that really liked the city. My mom was a fashion model in the late 40’s and early 50’s before she met my dad. She loved taking me and my sister into the city and showing us that world.
Now… that accent! LOL it is thick! We have the strange ‘a” sound that is very particular to the Islanders. When I was in college, my acting teacher drilled me hard to develop a more “Mid-West reporter” sound! The classic SI accent is heard when we say “The Staten Island Advance.” Instead of adVANCE, like most people, we say ADvance!
Yes that’s it precisely! So, it was at college when you started theater, or earlier?
Well, I did a high school musical at St Josephs Hill Academy when I was a senior. They needed a tall guy to be opposite a girl that was a lead in their show … so I was the right height! And in college, I got cast in a show freshman year because I was a swimmer and they needed a good, tall, muscular body to wear pink hot pants as a guard in Jesus Christ Superstar. So it seems my body got me cast in the beginning! After that show, I decided to give it a try and started studying theater.
Tell us about the creation of Doris, and where she first appeared.
Well, really she came about 5 years ago when my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She was such a light in my life, and many other peoples’ lives. I had always told stories about my parents Taffy and Duke (yes, real names). They were the life of the party. So, to deal with the loss, I decided to do what I know best, and that was to take her story to the stage. I wrote a theatrical cabaret show, and when I tried rehearsing it as Ray, I realized it didn’t really feel right. So I decided to create Doris Dear, who would be Taffy’s daughter, who she is teaching everything she knows to be America’s Perfect Housewife. By doing it as a drag character, it opened up the story telling in a way I could never do as Ray.
I had not done a ton of drag, but really for me it is just another character I do as a professional actor. I thought I would do one show at The Triad Theater and sell maybe 20 tickets. Well, it sold out… and the theater asked me back, and we sold out 4 shows over 2 months. After talking with my director and musical director, and with the backing of Sydney Myer at Don’t Tell Mama, we developed the show for 6 months. Then we took it on the road and now it has become a staple in the cabaret world… The Doris Dear Specials!
So, Doris is talking about your / her mother, but Doris herself is also actually based on your mother.
Completely! And all the stories I tell are true. They are all based on my mom. I use magazines and other pop culture items to illustrate those stories and songs, like magazines, recipe books and actual items my mom made… like handbags!
Did your mom have that swooping hair, and those glasses, too?
HA! Yes. She totally had the hair and glasses later in life; she always took them off for pictures. The look is all Taffy!
Do you find that audiences of all ages respond to Doris in the same way… or that she might be too “old-fashioned” for younger audiences to understand?
Well, it’s been interesting watching my audience grow and change. At first, it wasn’t exactly a younger audience. It was mostly straight married couples over 40. The husbands really loved Doris; I represent their mothers! Then slowly, the younger people started discovering this slice of life that Doris lives in. I talk a lot about old NYC. The restaurants, the theaters, the shows etc. They love hearing and seeing that. They also love hearing about the “old rules” that women lived by. Now it is truly a mix of all ages. I have some dedicated 15 year-olds that make their parents bring them to every show! I don’t curse or talk “blue.” I try to have an overall positive energy and message.
Would you ever perform in the bars? I can’t really picture Doris as Gaga and, like, Shequida as Beyonce doing “Telephone.” Actually wait, that would be amazing!
LOL… can you imagine!? Look, I grew up as a gay man in the NYC bar culture. I came out when I was 16! That would be 1974! I loved bar culture: a place to feel safe, meet people, and more. I grew up when drag queens, leather guys and preppy men all gathered together. I used to produce large club events as well. Being a part of gay culture has always been important to me.
Now I feel waaaay too old to do bar performing. Honestly… I’m in bed before those shows are even starting! I try to get out now and then to see all the queens out there, and there are some wonderful queens performing every week. I don’t know how they do it! I am also a terrible lip sync artist. I’m awful. And I haven’t done a slip in years! LOL
I bet it’s like riding a bike! So, do you actually consider yourself a drag queen, or like you said earlier – you are an actor, and Doris is just one character you do who happens to be in drag?
When I first started doing shows, I never said “drag queen” – only because when people hear it was a “drag show,” they had a certain expectation of what it would be. Those people would come and not enjoy it. I called it a “theatrical cabaret” hosted by a Housewife. I gave up on that, though. I sat with the amazing Charles Busch, and we discussed this very thing. I came to the realization that saying I am a drag queen is actually an honor. We are an elite bunch of men that are proud. I have always said it takes a real man to do drag!
Well said, queen! So Doris’ best-known shows are usually the ones for Mothers Day and Christmas, and the latter is coming up this week: The Doris Dear Christmas Special at the Triad Theater, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at 7pm! Tell us what we can expect this time around!
Well, it’s a whole new show this year. I absolutely love the Christmas shows. It is a time of year that people really want to feel happy, and we give them that in the show. The premise is that people are coming into my rumpus room and sharing a cocktail and story and song with Doris Dear. I have the most amazing singers who come in and visit. I actually had a cast and band rehearsal today, and I was knocked over by the sound. Simply amazing. Everyone in the show are award-winning singers and musicians. I am really honored that they choose to be a part of the show. You will hear stories of growing up with Taffy and Duke and how we celebrated Christmas. Nothing fills my heart more than honoring them each time I walk on stage!
That sounds absolutely perfect! Anything else we should mention?
I am honestly just so happy at this point in my life I still get to do what I love. I work a lot with other actors through my union SAG/AFTRA. I Serve on the LGBT National Committee and the Sexual Harassment Presidents Working Group to create safe spaces for our members. I try to encourage people to live an authentic life!
Finally, what’s the number one thing on your list for Santa this year… and what tops Doris’ list?
Well, Ray hopes that Santa brings him yet another successful year of shows. And Doris has a bottle of Dewars on her list for all those Whiskey Sours she loves!
Thank you Ray / Doris… have a great show and Happy Holidays!