Sound familiar? If it does, then Re-Designing Women is for you. It certainly was for me! As a long-time watcher of "Designing Women" on TV, I had no idea what I was in for when I attended the show at Empire Stage. Jamie Morris, who has skewered beloved TV shows and movies in the past (Mommie Queerest, The Silence of the Clams, The Facts of Life: The Last Episode) gets his master farceur's quill out to send up the ladies of Sugarbaker's Design Studio in Atlanta.
The story, what there is of it, is slim. An ongoing spat between Mary Jo (a very, very funny Chad Peterson) and the "dumb as a country fox" Charlene (Christopher Mitchell, managing to retain both her naiveté as well as more than capable of throwing zingers when needed), escalates into reality TV territory. The entire second act takes place in Andy Cohen's studio on Bravo (a perfect replication of Cohen by handsome Kevin Moore). The merriment works out for all concerned by the final curtain, and prior to the lights coming back on, we in the sold-out audience were treated to the madness and mayhem of a group of talented satirists who had me hysterical for most of the evening.
Above all is Mikey Abrams as Bernice, the role played by Alice Ghostley, who practically steals the evening with the most spot-on portrayal. Watch Abrams when the attention is not on him. As Stritch once sang, "it's the little things" he does and I cannot remember a funnier performance in memory. From his entrance wearing a Christmas tree skirt to his ad-libs, as needed, this is satirical brilliance.
Note that I said "practically steals." The reason for that is Jamie Morris, himself, who plays Julia (the Dixie Carter role). With a striking resemblance to the illegitimate daughter of Marian Seldes and John Gielgud, not that there ever was one, Morris gets the speech patterns and booming alto emphasis that were Carter's trademark. Add to that an hysterical stride and body language and, well, between Morris and Abrams, I was wiped out.
Mention must be made of the most beautiful set I have seen at Empire Stage to date, designed by Michael McClain. Christopher Kenney directed the inmates of this design asylum with a superb eye for detail as well as paying homage to the original concept. Kudos to him!
While you don't have to be a fan of "Designing Women" to enjoy the mastery of the cast, it does give you an edge. Rest assured that, gay or straight, you are in for one helluva ride. (I can't wait to see it again!)
Re-Designing Women through August 3, 2014, at Empire Stage, 1140 N Flagler Dr Fort Lauderdale. Thursdays - Saturdays at 8pm; Sundays at 5pm. For tickets and performance information, call 954-678-1496 or visit www.empirestage.com.
-- Jeffrey Bruce