The Dolls present Auntie Mame
One of Albuquerque's most tireless independent theatre troupes also happens to be its most glamorous. Founded in 1997 by Matthew Bubb (aka Geneva Convention) and Kenneth Ansloan (aka Tequila Mockingbyrd), The Dolls have each year presented no fewer than four or five imaginative movie spoofs, elaborate holiday extravaganzas, and drag interpretations of American chestnuts like The Women and The Bad Seed at theatres and nightclubs throughout Albuquerque. In little more than a decade, the company's tagline ("The Dolls presents") has come to signal a sequined mix of loving homage, broad parody, and what they coyly term "Dolls liberties," referring to the assorted ribald asides, riffs and one-liners that earn every Dolls production its "for mature audiences" warning. Such embellishments are on often delightful display this July as The Dolls present Auntie Mame, the now familiar tale of a young boy raised by his eccentric aunt, at the historic Albuquerque Little Theatre.
Even without The Dolls's "liberties," Auntie Mame is a scene-stealer's delight, with ample opportunity for such thievery by principal and bit player alike. In this cast of nineteen, eight performers play single characters, while the other eleven split the remaining twenty-three listed roles. And, elaborately outfitted in Susan Ricker's costumes, all do their best to steal the show. It is testament, then, to Bradd Howard's direction that an infectious spirit of collaborative camaraderie inspires the audience's palpable delight in this ensemble's performance (a feeling of goodwill that buoyed the show through the laborious scene changes and myriad scenery malfunctions that beset John van der Meer's set on opening night).
Double casting also amplifies each performer's especial contributions to the show. Seymour Johnson (local drag king and co- founder of the Albuquerque Kings Club) demonstrates a wry innocence as the younger Patrick, ably anchoring the show's emotional through-line for its first half (before taking on the same-but-different part of Michael in the last scene). Adam Kidd deftly essays three bit parts before intermission (after which he shines in the role of Patrick as a young man). A.J. Carian (who also plays Pegeen Ryan in the play's later scenes) schemes salaciously as southern belle Sally Cato, and Jim Johns's powerful bluster is put to effective (and often startling) use in the very different roles of Mother Burnside and Claude Upson. Jay Kincheloe, Chastity Belt-Off, Mauro Montoya, Brigitte Bellsong, Jason Dorrenbacher and Joshua Ball also take on multiple roles in the production.
In the role of acid-tongued, gin-soaked actress Vera Charles, Patrick Ross jolts every scene with clarity, precision and impeccable timing. (Mame's disastrous New Haven debut becomes one of the production's most captivating sequences largely because of Ross's ability to get laughs even with his back turned.) As Mame's na´ve secretary Miss Agnes Gooch, Adan Branchal is a winning, comedic presence throughout, appearing first as a dumpy frump, then morphing into a curvy glamazon, before plumply transforming again in a hot pink yoga costume. Even Gabe Torres (in the thankless role of Mame's Asian manservant Ito) grabs his share of giggles, as do Thax von Reither, Brian Fejer and Jaime Pardo as Mame's closer collaborators. But, without a doubt, the production's most delightful scenes are stolen by Joe Moncada in the role of Norah Muldoonez. Reinventing the script's dowdy Irish housekeeper as a regal Mexican matron (who speaks with an accent as thickly comical as Charo's), Moncada's Norah gooses the hilarity of every scene while always maintaining the character's warmth and stolidity. Moncada's irreverent yet generous performance is a revelation, and reason enough to see the show.
Yet no matter how many hidden gems one might find among the supporting players, the success of any Auntie Mame depends upon the performance at the center of its crown. Here, as Mame, is Kenneth Ansloanbest known as Dolls co-founder Tequila Mockingbyrd, who assumed sole artistic leadership of the company upon Bubb's untimely death in 2007. In the demanding title role, Ansloan delivers a charismatic performance that is equal parts grit, gumption and glamour. Gliding through no less than sixteen top-to-bottom costume changes (involving gowns and caftans galore, in addition to at least four wigs, a feathered headdress and an enormous silver turban), Ansloan's Mame works both as a drag homage to Rosalind Russell and as a giddy concoction all Ansloan's own. To be sure, the character's more vulnerable aspects appeared only fleetingly on opening night. Nevertheless, when Ansloan arrives onstage for the play's climactic scene wearing a show-stopping glittering golden gown and ready to vanquish the loathsome Upson clan, the whole of The Dolls's presentation of Auntie Mame comes together with heart-stirring humor as Ansloan conveys the transcendent fierceness of Mame's love for her beloved Patrick.
Auntie Mame by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, presented by The Dolls and directed by Bradd Howard, runs July 2-11, 2010, at the historic Albuquerque Little Theatre, 224 San Pasquale SW, just south of Old Town. Show times are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm. $15 general admission. For reservations call 505-242-4750 or visit www.albuquerquelittletheatre.org.
-- Brian Eugenio Herrera