Cooks at Home: Beneva Fruitville
I’m backstage in an honest-to-goodness dressing room with sequined and feathered costumes strewn about and old school vanity lights blazing as I stare at myself in the surrounding mirrors. I’m not alone, and I’m uncomfortably aware that I forgot to put even a layer of mascara on my naturally blond lashes, and my lips are almost as pale as my skin.
“Beneva Fruitville,” Sarasota’s beloved Drag Diva, is seated next to me in all her Technicolor glory, applying the finishing touches to an intricate makeup job that she laughingly refers to as “paint-by-numbers.”
We’re old friends, Beneva and I, and I’m excited to be a part of the getting-ready process that transforms quiet Barry, who is blessed with high cheekbones and a perfectly round pate, into larger-than-life Beneva, who is an even hotter commodity than usual these days, thanks to a regular gig at The Players Theatre hosting the ever-popular Drag Queen Bingo, a riotously funny recent segment on ABC 7 Suncoast News, weekly drag performances at Throb and Barrel 87, and an upcoming concert version of Rent at Florida Studio Theatre for the Sarasota AIDS Project that will feature another fabulous entertainer and man about town himself: Joey Panek.
Beneva and her partner in crime, “Lindsay Carlton,” have been performing Drag Queen Bingo for five years at various venues and have added the lovely “Tamiami Trails” to the act for the lavish theatrical version that occurs bi-monthly at The Players.
Barry is excited that following our photo shoot he will be heading to ALSO Out Youth to speak with some of Sarasota’s LGBT youth about living life out loud in the face of adversity. Barry is passionate about this cause as he recalls reaching out to a helpline in California during his own lonely youth and being disappointed by a lack of response.
“I never intended to be a drag queen,” says Beneva as I help her into a wine red, corseted, taffeta cocktail dress, chosen to mimic the color of her signature drink: “Beneva’s Red Curtain Cocktail,” which she describes as a “big girl spritzer.”
Indeed, Barry has been in showbiz for 20 years, first earning a degree from Cincinnati Conservatory of Music before performing in two national tours and two off-Broadway shows. When his mother fell ill he relocated to Florida and began performing at the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre where, during a dazzling run of Le Cage Aux Folles (The Birdcage), he was struck with the thought “Hey, I could do this—I’m pretty and talented!” and thus a star was born: Beneva Fruitville.
I ask Barry/Beneva what is the best part about life today and his/her answer fills me with pride and affection: “Living in Sarasota is exceptional. I get to teach kids, do drag, and be myself, all in culturally rich cosmopolitan city with a hometown vibe.”