Last Sunday afternoon I went to Theatre on the Square to see “Die! Mommy! Die!” It was written by Charles Busch and directed by Ed Mobley.
This is one bizarre and titillating show.
I am telling you right now that this review includes spoilers because I want to record them, so go see the show first and then let’s compare notes.
Here: I’ll put my usual ending at the beginning, so you don’t have to scroll down unless you want to:
“Die! Mommie! Die!” runs through Saturday, April 26, 2008 at Theatre on the Square. Order tickets online or call 317-635-TOTS. There is a 5:00 performance this afternoon, but not next Sunday.
Okay. Here is what I want to record about this piece:
Parts of it made me laugh so hard I thought I was going to have a heart attack. Other parts I watched through my fingers and murmured, “Oh, dear! Oh, my goodness. Is he/she really going to…Good heavens!”
I am laughing again, remembering.
Sometimes the show feels real. Or…not real, exactly, but as if it is taking itself seriously as a play about a deeply dysfunctional Hollywood family with big secrets in the 1960s. But other times it is completely preposterous, so you know you are not supposed to care about the characters except to the extent that they can make you laugh. The overall effect is one of schizophrenia, but it works as entertainment.
Brent E. Marty plays Angela Arden, a semi-retired singing star who wants to make a come-back. I know that part of the humor in this show is the fact that a male actor is playing a female role, but the effectiveness of Marty’s work goes beyond just that gag. His timing, his facial expressions, his dramatic “sweeps” from one part of the stage to another, and more, are hilarious. There is both grandness and delicacy in Marty’s portrayal of Angela. Just between you and me, sometimes I forgot that he was a man.
His slim and elegant figure is set off perfectly by the many glamorous outfits he wears. (Stephen Hollenbeck designed and created the costumes. Karen Webster serves as dresser during the show.) I especially loved the multiple stylings of Angela’s gorgeous, copper-colored hair, including perky pigtails with her tennis togs.
Michael Feruzza brings all kinds of chutzpah to his portrayal of Angela’s movie producer husband. (I admire his ability to convincingly take a suppository on stage! Good heavens!) Sol Sussman hasn’t had a hit in years, and he made the mistake of borrowing money from the Mob to finance his last picture. But even if he didn’t have problems of his own, he wouldn’t be encouraging Angela. He thinks she is washed up for good.
On the other hand, Angela’s young lover and tennis coach, player/actor wannabe Tony Parker (Joshua Ramsey), is very encouraging. Ramsey’s portrayal of Tony is as slick as the grease in his hair. I kept wanting to pull his collar closed, but I also was entranced by his bare knees and the curl on his forehead.
And when Sol and Angela’s hippie-esque, basket case of a son, Lance (Doug Messinger), repeatedly rips off Tony’s belt as if to go down on him, I thought “Yikes!” and “Yes!” in equal measure.
Both of the Sussman children have been damaged by poor parenting, but where Lance is fragile and dopie, daughter Edith (Erin Cohenour) is brazen and bossy. She suddenly and violently twists the arm of the loyal Irish maid, Bootsie, (Bridget Schlebecker) just for saying something slightly derogatory about Sol, whom Bootsie actually worships! Edith has inappropriate sexual boundaries, too, where her father is concerned, and hates her mother out of jealousy. She cuddles up on her daddy’s lap wearing nothing but a black negligee. Yikes, again!
Oddly enough, every time Cohenour flashed her long, gartered legs, I thought of her equally mesmerizing, but very different, portrayal of a Latina girl gang member on death row in “Unmerciful Good Fortune” at the Alley Theatre in February. I admire her range as an actor.
A few days after I saw this show, I met its light and sound operator, Amanda Lane, while she was running the box office at the Phoenix Theatre. I begged her to tell me the secret of “the shocking scissors scene.” She did, but only if I promised not to reveal it here in my blog. It had made me jump and gasp during the show, but the explanation surprised me in its simplicity. I bet you will be able to figure out how they did it, but I also bet that you will be as startled and impressed as I was!
Director Ed Mobley and technical director James Trofatter designed and dressed the 1960s movie star mansion set. I especially loved the humor in the reproduction of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” on the wall, and the authenticity of the turquoise Hoover vacuum cleaner that Bootsie uses. Ron Spencer’s lighting and sound designs interpret the script effectively, too, especially during the psychedelic flashback scenes. I don’t know which designer was responsible for the overhead translations during the secret language portions, but they were a hoot.
I haven’t been able to find a citation for the “Why Not Me? It’s My Moment” song that played more than once during the show, but I will keep looking. It was a perfect accompaniment for Angela and, really, for all of these characters. I would like to listen to the whole song some time.
As I mentioned earlier, “Die! Mommie! Die!” runs through April 26, 2008 at Theatre on the Square. After that, “Five Course Love,” by Greg Coffin, opens on May 16. According to box office manager John Fullam, in that piece, three actors play fifteen roles in five restaurants. ‘Sounds interesting!
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com