The Studio Theatre in Washington, DC, has discovered that the only possible way to stage James Kirkwood's notorious flop Legends! is to cast men in drag as the dueling divas earlier played by Mary Martin and Carol Channing (1986) and Linda Evans and Joan Collins (2007). John Epperson has edited Kirkwood's script while also appearing, in the guise of drag star Lypsinka, as "saintly" Leatrice Monsee, and James Lecesne is "earthy" Sylvia Glenn. (Leatrice became famous for playing nuns and long-suffering ladies, while Sylvia was more down-and-dirty.)
Played "straight," Legends! would be excruciating, but this production is a genuine guilty pleasure. It isn't just a bitch fest; it's anachronistic, illogical, and gives Sylvia the opportunity to sling some astonishingly racist lines at nobody's-fool maid Aretha (Rosalind "Roz" White). Yes, the sassy African-American woman is named Aretha.
Epperson has trimmed the script, originally two acts and seven characters, to a sleek 90 minutes and five characters. He also updated the celebrity references (now including Brad Pitt, Harvey Fierstein, and Whitney Houstonthe gag linking Roy Cohn, Napoleon, and Mickey Rooney may have been in Kirkwood's original) and added a whole meta level to the proceedings. When Leatrice and Sylvia discuss "the play," they explain that they mean the play-within-a-play they may or may not do together, not the play in which the audience is seeing them at that moment.
So then, what is Legends! all about? A desperate producer (Tom Story) wants Leatrice and Sylvia to co-star in a Broadway play with a handsome hunk to be named later. Both of themthe sort of grand stars who haven't really lived in Hollywood since the 1960shave reached "a certain age" with financial and medical concerns, but they are still the kind of larger-than-life figures who make their entrances accompanied by spotlights and fanfares, and they have never liked each other. Let the fireworks beginand the unexpected visitor (Leo Christopher Sheridan), and the refreshments that aren't what they appear to be, and ...
Under Kirk Jackson's direction, Lypsinka (cantilevered red hair and a sumptuous fur cape) and Lecesne (mop-like black hair and a leg-baring silver gown) rip each other to shreds in Daniel Conway's plush white-and-gold set. Fabio Toblini's costumes, Michael Giannitti's lighting, and Gil Thompson's sound design add to the sense that too much is never enough.