Done and Dunaway

Posted on 10 Jun 2009 at 10:09am
By Arnold Wayne Jones Life+Style Editor

‘Mommie’s’ boys play camp to the hilt; ‘Death’ be not proud, just funny


JOAN LOVES TCHOTCHKES: This ain’t Mama Crawford’s (Coy Covington, center) first time at the rodeo, fellas — as ‘Mommie Queerest’ captures the grandeur of badeur at the Rose Room.

Any movie can be bad; "Mommie Dearest" isn’t just bad, it’s the "Gone with the Wind" of camp — awfulness on an epic scale, where so much goes wrong it kinda works as entertainment, if not art.

It’s little wonder, with the costumes and melodrama and general terribleness, that gay men have adopted it as one of their own, as ill-fitting in civilized society as a 6’4" bearded drag queen at the country club ball.

So playwright Jamie Morris’ decision to adapt it to the stage as a satire, primarily by sticking with key dialogue and the same plot, poses a conundrum: To make a satire of camp, you have to be even more outrageous than what you’re lampooning, and do you really want that?

In the case of "Mommie Queerest," yes. While there are dull, awkward valleys occasionally, the actors (Chad Peterson, Kevin Moore, Paul J. Williams and Coy Covington as a scary Joan Crawford) don’t hesitate to play it to the hilt. No one spares a resource if he can make it work. Williams drudges up his Sister Helen Holy persona for a quick scene at a nunnery that sends the audience rolling in the aisles. Peterson’s take on Louis Mayer resembled a Kids in the Hall sketch with Bruce McCullough.

If it’s all a bit presentational, it’s also funny. If Faye Dunaway became famous for channeling Joan Crawford, but Covington channels Dunaway: Like a horse itching at the gate, he’s so full of facial tics conveying Joan’s mania, at times he appears to be having a series of small epileptic seizures. Even his "hand acting" in the opening video sequence is ripe with hilarious exaggeration. There’s more mugging onstage at the Rose Room than at midnight on a warm summer night in Central Park.

The cast, under the direction of Andi Allen, amps up the soapy melodrama, with homages to "Jaws," "Psycho," "The Bad Seed," even "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" (you know the lines; go ahead, shout them out). What if it lurches around (a staggering 33 scenes in 90 minutes) in a hit-or-miss style? Chalk up the lame parts to the source material, and revel in what does work. No need to be mad at the production — be mad at the dirt.

There’s nearly as much melodrama in "Death the Musical," a world premiere playing at Pocket Sandwich Theater. Composer-playwright Scott A. Eckert’s paean to "Noises Off" by way of Pegasus Theater with a sampling of catchy songs is a comic corkscrew of a behind-the-scenes murder musical.

The third-rate cast of a fourth-rate play find their members slowly being killed off, but with the mandate that they also continue on with the performance. Like the recent Broadway hit "Curtains," it makes about as much sense as political analysis on FoxNews. But within the strained conceit of the plot, Eckert has structured a dandy showcase for his clever lyrics and twisted sense of humor. (One of the best running gags, where the audience hears just the last words of seemingly salacious dialogue, runs out of steam before I wanted it to.)

Like "Mommie Queerest," it’s a parody of a shopworn format (the drawing room mystery) and is necessarily filled with stock characters, intentionally lazy dialogue and cliché developments. Those sometimes work against the play, due in part to Regis Allison’s often static direction. When it gets rolling — as in the sharply farcical entrance-and-exit ballet in Act 2 — the visual interest moves up a notch.

With so many characters, most with their own solos, the show sometimes lacks focus and impact, but Eckert’s Sondheim-esque patter buoys it. This "Death" could — and should — live on.

"Mommie Queerest," the Rose Room inside Station 4, 3911 Cedar Springs Road. Through July 12. Thursdays–Sundays at 8 p.m. Uptown Players.org.

"Death the Musical," Pocket Sandwich Theater, 5400 E. Mockingbird Lane, Suite 119. Through June 27. Thursdays–Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m. PocketSandwich.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 12, 2009.

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