Monday, October 15, 2007

Film Technicolor!

"Die Mommie, Die!" at the New World Stages, October 14, 2007

Charles Busch's 1999 homage to "grande guignol" films of the 1960s is finally getting its NYC debut. The prolific playwright of famous (The Tale of the Allergist's Wife) and infamous (Psycho Beach Party, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom) is back on the boards in the title role.

On his website, Mr. Busch describes the play as follows (spoiler alert):

Ex-pop singer, Angela Andrews, is trapped in a hateful marriage with film producer Sol Sussman. Desperate to find happiness with her younger lover, an out of work TV actor, Tony Parker, Angela murders her husband with the aid of a poisoned suppository. In a plot that reflects Greek tragedy as well as Hollywood kitsch, Angela’s Elektra-like daughter, Edith, convinces Angela’s emotionally disturbed son, Lance, that they must avenge their father’s death by killing their mother. Lance, demanding proof of Angela’s crime, slips some LSD into her after-dinner coffee. Angela is plunged into a wild acid trip that reveals that not only did she kill the children’s father but also their mother, for she isn’t their mother at all but rather their Aunt Barbara. A surprising twist ending has all of the Sussman family’s dirty laundry aired out for once and for all. Angela or rather Aunt Barbara realizes that happiness cannot be built upon a foundation of lies and turns herself in to the police.
As Angela, Mr. Busch emotes and trembles, in moods from pensive to petulant with a tribute to all the great actresses who didn't learn how to fade away - Bette, Joan, Lana, Gloria, Merman - they all appear at various points throughout the play. Having finally seen Mr. Busch in a live performance of one of his roles, I couldn't help but wonder just how much more fun "Our Leading Lady" would have been earlier this year with him in that title role (no offense to Ms. Mulgrew, mind you).

Bob Ari as Angela's husband, Sol Sussman, still seemed to be struggling with lines from time to time, detracting a bit from his concentration and focus. Newcomer Ashley Morris, as daughter Edith Sussman brings a nice fire to the girl with a disturbing affection for her father. Van Hansis' Lance Sussman, spends a bit more time blustering than is necessary (are his vocal chords going to be able to withstand 8 performances a week of this run in addition to his work on "As The World Turns?" He gets the lovable goof parts right, but seems a bit lost when it's his character who should appear that way. Kristine Nielsen's Bootsie Carp, does everything she can to compete with Mr. Busch's Angela, but she just doesn't stand a chance. The play is truly a showcase for Mr. Busch and any attempts to play it otherwise would be ill-conceived and foolish. Chris Hoch's bulging pecs (and crotch) precede him on every entrance as the oily actor/tennis pro, Tony Parker.

Technically, I was very impressed with Michael Anania's set design, although the execution revealed a few flaws and seams in the set walls. Working on a stage with absolutely no fly space calls for creative work and Mr. Anania has risen to the occasion. Ben Stanton's cinematic lighting provides just the right moments of melodrama required. Jessica Jahn's 1960s costumes service nicely, though I was a bit surprised at the poor fit of Mr. Busch's gowns by Michael Bottari and Ronald Case despite their inspired design.

Director Carl Andress has taken the concept of camp and run it for a marathon. Believe me, there's no cliche' left unmugged in this hilarious feast of stereotypes.

I'm really glad to see New World Stages putting up a performance of something designed to do more lure than the tourist west of 8th Ave. Theatre Row has established some very nice working relationships (apparently) with producing organizations like The Keen Company and The New Group. I think there are certainly opportunities for similar groups to help provide NWS with quality programming beyond "Naked Boys..." "Altar Boys" and "Gazillion Bubbles." (not to imply that those shows don't have their own merits - I'm just sayin'...)

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