Friday, August 14, 2009

die mommy, die!

Forgot to post this last week. This is seriously one of the funniest shows you will see all year. From the Post:

Parody is hard to do, and it's harder to do well. With all the winking and nodding, it's easy for writers, actors and directors to let a show slip into self-indulgence.

But what all truly great parodies do require is a foundation of love. There would be no "Rocky Horror Picture Show" without Richard O'Brien's love of sci-fi B-movies of the 1950s, no "Hairspray" without John Waters' love of the beehive-and-Wonder Bread "culture" of America's emerging suburban middle class.

taghigh-camp parodyWith Charles Busch's play "Die, Mommie, Die!" it's clear that the playwright/actor adores the old horror/mystery films of the mid-'60s, more so the dangerous, nutty divas who populated them. Every scene in this hilariously campy send-up of films like "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" oozes with love for dominant, bent movie queens played by the likes of Joan Crawford, Bette Davis and Lana Turner. He also tosses in a nod to "Psycho" and a hilarious send-up of the LSD fear-mongering drug films of the late 1960s.

Not only that, Busch is also to be commended for having written, hands- down, the finest suppository-insertion scene ever in the history of theater.

The story, naturally, revolves around a diva, fading lounge singer Angela Arden (played by Chris Whyde) trapped in a loveless marriage to crass Hollywood producer Sol Sussman (Robert Wells). When Sol produces photos of Angela with her lover — the sexually omnivorous Tony Parker (Jeremy Make) — but refuses to grant her a divorce, she begins plotting other ways to get rid of her husband.

Sol's bout of constipation provides Angela with an opening, so to speak.

Meanwhile, daughter Edith (Julia Perrotta) is daddy's little girl — in even littler skirts — harboring a hatred of Angela and a love for her daddy that knows no bounds.

No, she really, really loves her daddy. Edith climbs all over her Sol, clinging to him in squirm-inducing, wholly inappropriate ways — although that doesn't stop her from chasing after Tony, as well.

After Sol's death, Edith almost immediately suspects Angela and plots a way to take her down. She enlists the help of her deranged brother, Lance (Cameron Stevens). Naturally, he too wants to bed Tony.

Toss in a Bible-thumping maid (Trina Magness), and you get the idea. Mysteries will be revealed, people aren't who they seem to be, and Whyde's Angela is guaranteed to shriek several times with an eardrum-crushing, banshee wail of alarm, a sound somewhere between a train whistle and a foghorn.

But the genius of the show — and the tightrope that director Nick Sugar has deftly navigated — is the presentation. This is somewhere between parody and homage.

All of these insanely over-the-top characters at some point deliver melodramatic lines to the house in the best tradition of those gothic, Grand Guignol films of yesteryear, punctuated by portentous organ chords. Whyde delivers a scathing, mad second-act rant that is pure Bette Davis, but everyone gets a chance.

This is a show with both size 13 stiletto heels firmly planted in the camp tradition. But while the mainstreaming of drag humor has rendered it somewhat safe, somewhat neutered in this day and age, with "Die," Busch inserts it firmly but gently back into risk-taking territory. Grandma and the kiddies should probably stay home for this one.

But it all somehow fits — as does the cast. Whyde fully inhabits the character of Angela, making you like her even as you eagerly await her comeuppance. But even playing opposite such a grande dame of a character, the rest of the cast manages to hold their own.

Perrotta, as Edith, nearly steals the show as the nut-job diva in training, and Make delivers the granite-jawed, cynical lothario without cracking a smile. Remarkably, he does so without losing his balance either, given costuming choices that were likely made in consultation with the produce department at Safeway.

It's tasteless, and it's crass, but it's also one of the funniest shows you'll see all year.

"Die, Mommie, Die!" ***1/2 (out of four stars)

Presented by The Avenue Theater, 417 E. 17th Ave. Written by Charles Busch. Directed by Nick Sugar. Starring Chris Whyde, Julia Perrotta, Jeremy Make, Trina Magness, Robert Wells, Cameron Stevens. Through August 29. 1 hour, 47 minutes. 10 p.m. Fridays, 8:30 p.m. Saturdays, 6 p.m. Sundays. No show Aug. 16. $15. Call 303-321-5925 or

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