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Southern Florida by John Lariviere


Shut Up, Sweet Charlotte

Also see John's review of The Voysey Inheritance

Reaction Productions and the Broward Center for the Performing Arts present Shut Up, Sweet Charlotte at the Rose and Alfred Miniaci Performing Arts Center. The show is a gender-bending parody of the 1964 camp horror film Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte. The film, which starred Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland, was adapted for the screen from Henry Farrell's short story "What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte?." The film received seven Oscar nominations, more nominations than any other previous horror film.

The story begins in 1964, as a wealthy, middle-aged spinster named Charlotte Hollis fiercely defends her family's faded Louisiana plantation. There she lives with only her housekeeper Velma and her vivid memories of the past. The Louisiana Highway Commission has acquisitioned her property to build a new highway, but Charlotte defies the eviction notice and refuses to leave. She contributes to her own crazed reputation by shooting her rifle at the workers manning the bulldozers, and running them off her property. She calls upon her cousin Miriam to help in her fight to keep the house. Though once a poor cousin taken in by Charlotte's family, Miriam is now a well-heeled businesswoman.

We flash back to 1927, where a very young Charlotte was having an affair with a married man named John Mayhew. In the midst of an elaborate party thrown by her father, Big Sam, Charlotte sneaks away for a clandestine rendezvous with John. There she offers John her hand in marriage. Charlotte returns to the party with her ball gown covered in blood, and John's lifeless body is discovered missing its hands and head. The missing body parts are never recovered, and Charlotte recalls nothing of what happened.

Though Charlotte received much publicity as a young woman she somehow escaped conviction. No one has ever been charged with the murder, and no one has ever collected on the life insurance policy. Decades later Charlotte remains in the house because she believes her now deceased father killed her lover, and she is protecting his secrets. Everyone else seems to believe crazy Charlotte committed the murder. Now that cousin Miriam returns, Charlotte's mental health begins to deteriorate, and she has vivid and haunting hallucinations. Miriam and the local doctor, who were once sweethearts, reunite to "help" Charlotte with her problems. But,it turns out it is they who may be her problems.

This production of Shut Up, Sweet Charlotte is a deliciously high camp stage version of the film, with males in drag playing the roles of Charlotte, Miriam, and Velma. They are not just playing the characters, but rather spoofing the actresses who originated the roles in the movie: Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland and Agnes Moorehead. The performances include imitations of Davis' trademark style of line delivery, de Havilland's cleavage-laden costuming for the film, and a nod to the copious amount of chewing of the scenery in which the film indulged.

Varla Jean Merman is a true Disney villainess filled with beauty, glamour and poison. Her comedic ability propels the show forward, and a brief scene in which she is buffeted by the wind actually demonstrates some surprisingly strong pantomime skills. Ricky Graham has the time of his life playing Bette Davis as Charlotte. Some lines so perfectly mimic Davis that they resulted in smattered applause on the night attended. Brooks Braselman conquers the difficult job of copying Agnes Moorehead's off-beat interpretation of the housekeeper Velma.

Anyone who has seen and loved the movie Hush ... Hush Sweet Charlotte will get a kick out of this clever and comedic stage version. Shut Up, Sweet Charlotte is just great fun!

Shut Up, Sweet Charlotte comes to South Florida from its four-city debut tour. The show garnered New Orleans Big Easy Awards for Best Comedy and Best Director, and enjoyed a sold out three-month run in Provincetown, Massachusetts. In addition to producing Shut Up, Sweet Charlotte, the executive producer of Reaction Productions, David R. Morgan, spearheaded a 35-city national tour of the critically acclaimed stage production of My Trip Down the Pink Carpet, the autobiographical story of TV and film actor Leslie Jordan. Additional shows include engagements of The Mismatch Game, An Evening with Ann Hampton Calloway, I Wanna Be A Soapstar (2006 and 2007) and Soapnet in Paradise in 2005 in Honolulu. Reaction Productions has also been a promotional sponsor of events surrounding the theatrical premiere of Legally Blonde, The Musical in San Francisco and Cry-Baby, The Musical in La Jolla, California, prior to both shows running on Broadway. For additional information on the company, please visit www.reactionmarketing.net.

Shut Up, Sweet Charlotte appeared November 19 - 22, 2009 at the Rose and Alfred Miniaci Performing Arts Center. The Miniaci is located on the Nova Southeastern University campus at 3100 Ray Ferrero Jr. Blvd. in Davie, FL. Tickets are available at (954) 462-0222, or on-line at www.mimiacipac.org. The Broward Center for the Performing Arts is located at 201 SW 5th Ave., in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. For information on the Broward Center for the Performing Arts season you may contact them by phone at 954-462-0222 or online at www.browardcenter.org.

Cast:
Miriam Deering: Varla Jean Merman (Jeffrey Roberson)
Charlotte Hollis: Ricky Graham
Velma Cruther: Brooks Braselman
Dr. Drew Bayliss: Mark Meehan
M. Harry Wills: Michael Sullivan
Jewel Mayhew/Sheriff Luke Standish: Yvette Hargis

Crew:
Director: Jeffrey Roberson
Scenic Design: Larry Basso
Lighting/Technical Director: Jerry Gibson
Costumes: Cecile Casey Covert
Wigs: Gerard Kelly


See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

-- John Lariviere



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