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By Donalevan Maines
Photo by Dalton DeHart
Fans love that out actor Randall Jobe can’t kick the habit of performing a repertoire of popular drag portrayals ranging from Marlene Dietrich to “Mama Ninfa” Laurenzo. The late Houston restaurateur even signed a tortilla for him!
In The Divine Sister, Jobe has a sister mister in Joel Sandel, another out Houston pro who stars as Mother Superior, a role the show’s author, Charles Busch, originated off-Broadway in 2010.
Mother Superior, indomitable leader of crumbling St. Veronica’s Convent in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has since been played by a man in drag, but Celebration Theatre camps up the comedy by casting Jobe as a German nun, Sister Maria Walburga. (Or is she? The plot thickens.)
“I’m in!” says Jobe.
“If you have one nun in drag,” he tells me, “you might as well have two.”
Ach du lieber! (Oh, heavens!)
Jobe was born to Mexican-Indian parents in Paducah, a tiny town in the Texas Panhandle, where he was quickly adopted by Fonda and Wayne Jobe. His father’s family were Jews who had added an e to their last name when they converted to Christianity; their long-suffering Old Testament name of Job became Jobe.
“I have been involved in theater of some sort or another as long as I can remember—over five decades. That sounds better than 50 years,” says Jobe.
He debuted as a performer in 1967 as a workhouse orphan in a community theater production of Oliver! (“I learned everybody’s songs and would go home singing all of them,” he recalls).
Following his family’s move to Brazosport, Jobe made his way to très gay Houston where he met his first lover, and they moved in together. “He was from Sealy, and I moved to Houston from Clute,” says Jobe. “That is when my parents called me on the carpet and asked me if I was gay. I said, ‘I think so.’ They threw everything they could at me, including the Bible. Actually, I feel like a late bloomer. Everybody knew I was gay before I did. I was very outgoing and showed every tendency for being gay. I sewed little dresses for my little sister’s Barbie dolls.”
Years passed before Jobe’s parents fully accepted his truth.
“A friend of mine contracted HIV and then AIDS in the mid-’80s when it was just coming to light,” explains Jobe, whose parents watched as he cared for his dying friend. “I saw a change in them, especially my father. From that point on, it was, for the most part, a smooth transition.”
Beginning in 1975, Jobe performed in musicals for Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS), “generally buried in the chorus,” he says. “My first show was Fiddler on the Roof in Miller Outdoor Theatre, in June, all bundled up as if it was wintertime, before there was air-conditioning on stage. It was pretty horrific, but I didn’t care. I thought it was big time!”
In the early 1980s, Jobe gained fame as a comic at Risky Business, a cabaret that shared space at 2700 Albany St. in Montrose with the muscular Officer’s Club (formerly the Farmhouse disco). Its performers “managed the box office, did marketing, did lyric rewrites, and here and there we would write original songs; they were full of innuendo,” he says. “Everything was thrown at us to do, out of necessity. I feel like all of it served me later,” including his long stint as an emcee and promotions director for Charles Armstrong Investments.
“The [Risky Business] audiences were a great mix of gay people and straight people,” adds Jobe, who has also worked as a bartender at gay watering holes. “You would have a table of eight young men next to a table of straights; by the end of the night, they were great pals.”
Jobe remembers some of his fellow performers panicking when his parents arrived for a show on a night that he was to portray a foul-mouthed Marlene Dietrich. “They said, ‘What are you going to do?.’ I said, ‘I’m going to do Marlene.’ It was kind of vulgar, but she ended up being one of my father’s favorites.”
His parents are deceased, but both of Jobe’s sisters plan to cheer him on as Sister Walburga in The Divine Sister, in which he does double duty by scrubbing the convent’s courtyard as an old Scottish charwoman, Mrs. MacDuffie. The roles mark his return to Gay Pride Month shows. (For Arrivederci Papa!, he rode atop a Pride parade float while “powdering” the crowd with flour from an oversized sponge.)
Jobe has also voiced Audrey II, the menacing plant in Little Shop of Horrors, donned drag as Sylvia St. Croix in Ruthless at Strand Street Theatre in Galveston, and portrayed Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Buzz in Love! Valour! Compassion!, and Harold (twice, 10 years apart) in The Boys in the Band, among other roles. In Judy at the Stonewall Inn, he played a drag queen who impersonated Liza Minnelli’s famous mother.
The Divine Sister’s out director, Ron Jones, says, “We hope the LGBT audience will support the show not just because the leading lady is a man in drag, but because it is campy fun that we sometimes like as a diversion.”
The play also features out gay fave Brad Goertz (watch for his character’s “giant schlong”); Elizabeth Marshall Black as wrestling coach Sister Acacius; veteran Michelle Britton as Mrs. Levinson, a Jewess whom Mother Superior hits up for money; and newcomer Skyler Sinclair as Agnes, a postulant.
“Busch [the play’s author] has ransacked most every nun movie ever made,” says Jobe. “It’s outrageous, irreverent, and laugh-out-loud funny.”
The show references such films as Doubt, Sister Act, Agnes of God, The Trouble with Angels, The Singing Nun, The Song of Bernadette, The Bells of St. Mary’s, The Da Vinci Code, and The Sound of Music. (For example, how do you solve a problem like Agnes? Among the visions she sees is “the holy face of St. Clare in the urine stain of a boy’s underpants.” She stares, transfixed.)
A Variety critic wrote, “Call it old-fashioned with its sweet, silly earnestness, but in a crass and sullen world, this kind of comedy is not only entirely refreshing, it’s necessary!”
Nevertheless, insists Jobe, “The Divine Sister is for adults only!”
Nein? You don’t believe him?
Well, in stealing a classic scene from The Sound of Music, when Mother Superior gently asks Sister Mary Acacius, “My dear, what is it you can’t face?,” stage directions require that her “affected accent makes it sound like she said, ‘What is it, you cunt-face?’”
Yep, this twisted Sister isn’t for kiddos.
What: The Divine Sister
When: Through July 3
Where: Classical Theatre Company, 4617 Montrose Blvd. @ 59 (in Chelsea Market)
More Info: 832.330.5478
Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.