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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Lypsinka Returns to San Francisco with
The Passion of Crawford

Also see Richard's reviews of Ann Hampton Callaway and Schonberg

Lypsinka (aka John Epperson) recently returned to San Francisco after a four-and-a-half year absence. His last appearance was at the Alcazar Theatre. John still has that manic energy to put over a character and he is mesmerizing in this performance of the unique creation of the great film star.

Most people think of this artist as a camp drag queen; however, he told Richard Dobbs of the Bay Area Reporter, "As for camp, I've had it with drag that has no intelligence or sensibility behind it."

Lypsinka held court at the Empire Plush Room in the Hotel York, playing, once again, the film diva Joan Crawford. Lypsinka does not present a caricature of the actress but a complex woman with just a slight amount of camping. There is still the manic facial expression with the quivering lips, but it has been cut down to a minimum. She still has the look of a demonic deer caught in the headlights of a car.

I usually don't care for drag or camp stars doing Joan since I was a personal friend of hers when living in Los Angeles. I had the pleasure of working with her on Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and I would visit her on the Republic set (my original home studio) many times. I always found when she was away from the cameras and public she was a genuine person with a great heart. She had fought her way up the Hollywood ladder but she was still down to earth.

In the new show, The Passion of the Crawford, John dresses in a gorgeous gown with a long flowing silk stole that goes to the floor. The dress could have been designed by Adrian. He wears four strands of rubies about his neck and on his head is a stunning red upsweep wig. His character is straight from a Vogue cover.

Passion of The Crawford runs a little over an hour and it features her interview at Town Hall in New York before a live audience in 1973. Ms. Crawford apparently had a few belts before coming on stage and she was scared since there were no cameras involved. She certainly loved the camera and it always seemed to be her security blanket. The interview takes place on a set with two plastic chairs, a plastic table with a bottle of Pepsi on top, and a plastic lamp. Steve Hasley is splendid as the interviewer.

Ms. Crawford's interview is completely lip synched and both John Epperson and Steve Hasley have it down pat. The interview took place at the time Joan had turned down an offer to replace Eileen Heckart in Butterflies Are Free on the Broadway stage. Joan had completed Johnny Guitar at Republic and Baby Jane at Warners. Occasionally during the interview the lights dim and bubbles come from the ceiling as Crawford's singing a few notes of song from her musical films and one very rare recording can be heard. There is also an interjection of the actress's famous Christmas television show featuring her two small adopted children.

Joan relates stories about her male stars and her love for Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy and Charlton Heston. She says they just don't make stars like that anymore. There is a Q&A session on the recording and she talks about the early days when Hollywood turned from silents to the talkies. MGM had each of their stars talk on records to determine if they would be fit for the new era of sound. When she heard her voice she said "oh my God, I sound like a man." She relates an amusing story about Eileen Heckart during the interview, in which Ms. Heckart was asked, "What do you think about pot?" and she replied, "That's your problem, not mine. Mine is Scotch."

Joan's actual radio interview takes up around 40 minutes of stage time. Additionally, Lypsinka gets very serious when he re-creates Joan's radio performance about one of her favorite works of literature, Desiderata,  a philosophy that was prevalent in Hollywood during the 1960s  about how to live peacefully and to determine what is essential to make your life serene.  There is very little camp in this scene and he tries to show the serious side of the famed movie star.   

Unfortunately, John Epperson has to appease the camp fans in the audience by presenting an over-the-top performance of one of Joan's schlock horror films, Straight Jacket. A phone rings and after each ring the character goes into a psychotic breakdown. It is Crawford at her worst but it makes the gay crowd happy to see the put-on.

The Passion of the Crawford played at the Empire Plush Room through May 21. The room is located in the Hotel York, 940 Sutter St, San Francisco. For information, call 866-468-3399 or visit www.EmpirePlushRoom.com. Upcoming is be the multi-faceted lesbian singer Suede on June 1-4, political humorist Mort Sahl (June 8-11, July 6-9 and August 3 6), chanteuse Jane Olivor comes in on June 15-18, cabaret performer Andrea Marcovicci on July 11-30 and opera star Julia Migenes on August 11-20.


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

- Richard Connema



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