Full disclosure: I am not a fan of the shows of playwright Peter Lefcourt and director Terri Hanauer.
Their prior productions, such as The Assassination of Leon Trotsky: A Comedy and Café Society, have struck me as style blatantly masquerading as substance, with more money than thought going into either undertaking.
I admit my reviews were…harsh.
While Drama Queens From Hell—a guest production at the Odyssey Theatre—suffers flaws poured from the same fonts, it came closer, than the aforementioned shows, of actually almost working for me.
There is a definite audience for this show.
Fans of the late great Bill Bailey and those who smile when they remember Paul Lynde in the center box of Hollywood Squares.
In 1970 this show would have been quite daring and should that be your decade of choice – well!
The premise of the piece is a fun house mirror reflection of a touted and much beloved film noir classic.
Like that film, we open on our narrator, a Hollywood hopeful, who has shaken off his mortal coil and gone to that Great Sound Stage in the sky, the victim of an unfolded mystery.
Paul Galliano is powerfully personable as Gerard Manville, the young, up and coming director whose demise was a direct result of the auditions he was holding for his big budget remake of the Billy Wilder 1950 satirical skewering of the myth and morals of Tinseltown – Sunset Boulevard.
An idea which is as cringe worthy as Jan de Bont’s 1999 remake of The Haunting, Robert Wise’s 1963 film classic of supernatural horror based on the novel by Shirley Jackson, or the 2008 conspiracy between director Scott Derrickson and Keanu Reeves to slaughter the ‘50s sci-fi masterpiece The Day the Earth Stood Still.
Like Joe Gillis, no red carpets await Manville; just a small brown tag tied to his toe and a berth at the L.A. morgue after his corpse is found in his bed.
The suspects in his untimely death are – of course – the three actresses up for the role of Norma Desmond, the aged and delusional star of the silent era.
There’s Felicia Brown (Dee Freeman) a sassy “Black Roles Matters” activist who gives the Gloria Swanson role a Cleopatra Jones slant; Christopher Callen (she’s named for the patron Saint of travelers) is the sensual sidewinder Maxine Zabar who sees the role as her last shot at real stardom; and Chad Borden as Brianne McCauley, a transsexual wanna-be who chews the scenery, the curtains, the box office staff, the cars out in the parking lot, pretty much anything that gets in his/her way and does so with an infectious glee.
That’s pretty much all there is, plot-wise.
Lefcourt has cranked out just another play-lite rendering, though with slightly more potential than I find in his usual offerings. Sadly, were his sensibilities not stuck in the land of sitcom, Lefcourt probably could have done much more and much better than he has here.
As it is, he has left the heavy lifting to his director and cast.
Fortunately the ensemble is up to the task and Hanauer even steps up to the plate and knocks a few, if not out of the stadium, at least deep into center field.
The highpoint of the evening, indicative of the direction toward which Lefcourt could have steered the overall production, is when the three actresses do a “Bad Lip Reading” twist in their auditions which are matched in sync with actual clips from the film.
Drama Queens From Hell is a show that will have some audiences chuckling non-stop.
It is a clever show, if a frustrating one.
Frustrating in the opportunity missed.
Rather than taking its inspiration from a staging like Silence, the devastatingly funny musical parody of Silence of the Lamb, it has instead settled for being a half way good skit on the old Sonny and Cher Show.
Rick Podell has some excellent moments as the harried agent of the three actresses; regrettably the playwright thought it was funny for him to be straining on a toilet for the goodly portion of his stage time.
Andrew Diego proved in JonBenét Ramsey: The Musical and Doma’s American Idiot that he has enough presence on stage for a small marching band. Here, for all his cross dressing and flamboyancy, the script doesn’t allow for a presence, merely a shadow.
Hanauer moves the play nicely imbuing it with a classy look as it goes vamping along.
Pete Hickok aids in that aspect with a sleek set design skillfully illuminated by Donny Jackson.
If you like your satire pitched under hand, think Jimmy Kimmel is the cutting edge of comedy, and would rather spend an evening with Benny Hill than Monty Python this is an evening you’ll enjoy.