Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Seattle

Brent or Brenda? at Re-bar

Based on one of the all-time classic "so bad it's good" camp films in Hollywood history, Ethereal Mutt Limited's production of Brent or Brenda? is mildly amusing entertainment. Given the source material and the capabilities of the creators of this loose spoof, it disappoints mostly by not being a lot funnier.

Hollywood hack par excellence Ed Wood is best known for his horribly low-budget sci-fi flick Plan Nine From Outer Space, but his alleged documentary Glen or Glenda, in which Wood himself plays the title role of a heterosexual cross dresser (which he was in real life), is revered as a camp comedy classic. Bela Lugosi, not long before his abortive appearance in Plan Nine (he died during shooting with a miscast double doing most scenes), narrates Glen or Glenda, uttering in all gothic seriousness lines like "Snips and snails and puppy dogs tails, that's what little boys are made of," as Wood/Glen sashays around in ladies underwear. The film is low budget, almost improvisationally scripted, and terribly acted to such a degree that you can't help but chuckle at it.

Brent or Brenda?, by playwright Scot Augustson, takes off from the Wood film, complete with narrator Bela, though it takes several side trips for scenes/moments of Augustson's own creation (though, thanks to mostly flat dialogue, many of these don't land properly). A section in which Brent goes into the military (is it WWI or II?) and poses as a German chanteuse sounds funny but is never really realized, and this typifies the weakness of the show. This extends to a segment where Brent becomes a dramaturge and tries to get Jean Paul Sartre and Arthur Miller to add cross dressing characters to their plays. It's a funny idea, limply realized. The playwright does score by actually creating empathy for his hapless lead character's plight, and under the brisk direction of Ed Hawkins and a willing and winning cast, there is fun to be had if you can hang on through the dull patches.

Ben Laurance is utterly engaging as Brent/Brenda, thanks to his deadpan sincerity in the role; due to the fact that he looks just as uneasy in women's clothes as Wood himself did, there is an odd but genuine poignancy in Brent's wanting to play dress up. The Bela role is played with relish and a wicked twinkle in her eye by a Ms. Mar T. Feldman (aka a local actress using a pseudonym). Jennifer Jasper brings her unique comic style to roles as varied as Brent's angelic conscience and his emasculating mother, and Stacey Plum is an able jokester herself as Brent's devil conscience and his would be lady love Marsha Dimes. There is a funny running gag about Brent wanting to sing a musical number, though he finally settles for lip-synching, choreographed by one of Seattle's funniest humans, Burton Curtis.

Curtis, not coincidentally, was a part of the golden era of camp at Re-bar in the 1990s. Brent or Brenda? would like to be like those bawdy, cutting edge shows which laid waste to everything from Hamlet to The Importance of Being Earnest, but it just misses the mark, mostly by being laugh-lite. But it did make me want to see Glen or Glenda? again, and Ed Wood, too, for that matter.

Brent or Brenda?, produced by Ethereal Mutt Ltd at Re-bar, 1114 Howell Street (at Boren Avenue) running through Dec. 27, 2003. For reservations call 206.323.0388.

- David-Edward Hughes

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