Die! Mommie! Die!
That said, my first reaction to the black-out comedy of Gary Bell's latest stage production was, "well, this is a little too broad for my taste." But, as the pot-boiling plot thickened like day-old matzo, the outrageous "crotch-shots," the sex-crazed teenagers and (of course) the six-foot tall Susan Hayward type, driven mad by guilt and a cruel husband, all began to fit together so very, very perfectly.
Landon Shaw is the "Mommie" of the play by Charles Busch and, in a red wig and a long series of glittering gowns and perky cocktail dresses (for gardening), Mr. Shaw eviscerates the genre of the wealthy, troubled Hollywood star: trampling our memories of Joan Crawford, Ms. Hayward, and Loretta Young in his high-heeled path. In fact, you might say he puts the "tramp" in "trampling." But then you'd see what this show can do to your sense of humor.
The outstanding Mr. Shaw gets a run for his money from his on-stage daughter, his own little "trampling," if you will, played by the brilliant Meg Rodd, channeling Patty Duke in Valley of the Dolls. Sexually precocious in skin-tight mini-skirts and midriff-baring tops, her Edie exults over her irascible movie producer father (the excellent Will Ledbetter), and later plots to catch his killer, with the help of her fawning, willowy brother (the very funny Zack Huels). Wacky, Bible-quoting, gin-swilling Andra Harkins grows more and more twisted as the maid who knows too much. Meanwhile, hindered, hampered and harassed by a pesky tennis pro (the always-handsome Roger Erb), Ms. Rodd and Mr. Huels fight temptation (for about a page or two) before succumbing to Mr. Erb's blandishments. But can he be trusted?
Excellent sound and light, along with the magic of PowerPoint projections (and lavish décor, of questionable taste), play terribly important roles here, too, and all were perfect the night I attended; accentuating dramatic moments and drawing us into an orgy of sex, violence, and lies. And sex. A psychedelic, LSD-fueled interrogation becomes a mad "Black Friday" rush through a shopping mall of very expensive memories. A pair of scissors, thrown in a moment of terrible anxiety, grows to monstrous proportions when they land in another actor's face. Dramatic musical cues haunt an equally dramatic exit, over and over, stretching that cross to the garden to incredible lengths. And an astonishing suppository becomes even more astonishing when drenched… in murder.
Critic Bob Wilcox says this is the sort of show that probably plays better after a few drinksmaybe there's just something wrong with me, that I enjoyed it so much, stone-cold sober.
Die! Mommie! Die! runs through December 20, 2008, at the Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Avenue in South St. Louis. Produced in cooperation with "TFA: The Future Antiques." For information call (314) 865-1995 or visit the company online at www.straydogtheatre.org.
* Denotes member, Actors Equity Association
Photo by Justin Been