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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Two Divas Clash in the Uproarious
Hush Up, Sweet Charlotte

Also see Richard's reviews of Tea at Five and Les MisÚrables

Hush Up Sweet Charlotte
Matthew Martin
Make It So Productions has taken over the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre at 620 Sutter Street for the summer to present San Francisco's favorite drag diva, Matthew Martin, as Charlotte and International Drag Super-star Varla Jean Merman (aka Jeffery Roberson) as Miriam in this campy version of the 1964 Robert Aldridge film Hush Hush, Sweet Charlotte, which starred the indomitable Bette Davis and the lovely Olivia de Havilland. Martin (also directing) once again repeats his 1994 role as the demented Charlotte while Varla Jean Merman plays a very butch cousin Miriam. One wonders why anyone would choose this screenplay for camp treatment since the actual script itself is pure camp and confusing enough, saved only by the acting of the film stars, which included Agnes Moorehead and Joseph Cotten. Martin and Velma rise above the mundane script to make this a tour de force of great gay camp acting. Each tries to upstage the other and it is hilarious.

The gothic drama takes place in 1927 in the old south where Charlotte Hollis is a young woman having the time of her life at a party thrown by her father, rich plantation owner Big Sam. Charlotte's happiness is cut short when she is rejected by her lover John, who shortly thereafter finds himself without a head, a hand or life. As fast as you can say Gone with the Wind (or gone with a head and hand) you are whisked away to the present day. Charlotte is now aged, crazed and shunned by the locals (looking at her one can see why). They think she murdered her lover those many years earlier. Charlotte's disheveled maid Velma (Sandra Schlechter in the Agnes Moorehead role) is her sole companion.

Miriam arrives on the scene to "help" with things but the cousin fails to offer any assistance other than bringing in the family physician (Michael Sousa) who speaks almost a foreign language since his southern accent is a cross between Butterfly McQueen, a Cajun comic and Stepin Fetchit). I could not understand one word he uttered. The evil cousin is up to no good since she wants the troubled relative to be committed so she can gain property of the valuable house. As the nightmares of Charlotte's finances continue to haunt her, she ends up fighting not only for the estate but for her sanity and for top billing as well. You get all of this in a fast paced two hours with intermission.

Matthew Martin is the personification of Bette Davis. He is an awesome sight and his command of comedy is marvelous. He holds center stage with his wispy, long blonde wig and bulging eyes. He has all the mannerisms - the raised eyebrows, the Davis stare, the voice inflections and the fluttery hands - down pat. They are beautifully exaggerated and I even think Ms. Davis would have been appreciative of the work this talented person puts into the characterization. He does not overstate the character when speaking and his timing is impeccable.

Varla Jean Merman is a diva extraordinaire and she wisely does not try to imitate Olivia de Havilland in this production. During the first act, Varla plays it somewhat straight, but in the second act she cuts loose to make her character the center of attention. Varla becomes a demented genius that is more frightening than Joan Crawford with an ax or a wire hanger. Her slinking down the stairs of the two-story set while Charlotte is almost comatose in bed is side splitting. Both Martin and Varla bring down the house in the famous automobile scene that looks more out of All about Eve. Varla has the biggest breasts since Jane Russell showed hers off in The Outlaw, and the jiggling over a rough road is priceless. Varla makes a great, husky cousin Miriam and probably could play guard for the San Francisco 49ers. She shows her protective nature when an insurance investigator or a British journalist (you are never sure which), played wonderfully by Andre C. Andree, is barred from entering the house. Andre is diminutive and his face comes up to the buxom breast of Miriam. (I think you get the picture).

Hush up, Sweet Charlotte's supporting players are good, especially Sandra Schlechter who looks like she was part of the Addams Family. Arturo Galster (who will take over the role of Miriam on the 29th), Michael Sousa, Woody Clark, Erika Atkinson, Vince Calvarese and Kai Brothers complete the large cast and play their roles with little or no camping.

Clay David, J.R. Morocco and Nathan Berneman have designed a very detailed two-tier stage that is excellent. It gives you the feeling of an old Southern mansion. Matthew Martin and Derrick Siverson provide an excellent sound score that includes the mood music from the Fox film. It works perfectly. Lighting by J. R. Morocco, David Sammons and Ed Bell is very good.

Varla Jean Merman will be appearing as Miriam through June 26th when he leaves to present his new solo show in Provincetown. Arturo Galster will take over the role from June 29 through the closing date August 31. The Lorraine Hansberry Theatre is located at 620 Sutter Street at Mason, San Francisco. Tickets can be purchased at the Lorraine Hansbury Theatre Box Office in person or by phone at 415-474-8800. Tickets also at TIX Union Square and www.ticketweb.com.


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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