Theatre in Review

Set in the 1930's, this melodrama has all the ingredients you'd expect, sex, drugs, murders and the quick, clever banter of women fighting for their lives in a film noir-colored seedy underworld of a dance hall/nightclub/whorehouse.

 

In the latest Hell in a Handbag production "Lady X - The Musical", director and writer/composer David Cerda plays Scarlet stunningly dressed in delicious blood-red with all of the oomph, hilarity and confident power of his Joan Crawford character. Cerda really is the sun around which all of the talented planets in his cast revolve and he does it with great force and superb dry humor that trumps all and anchors the show with fear of the ultimate female "mob boss" that Hell in a Handbag fans have come to love and expect. Like Cerda says at the end of the show, "Hell in a Handbag is not just a theatre company it's a cult!" 

 

Christea Parent as Mary Dwight, is Lady X whose innocent younger sister comes to town to finish school but ends up tragically caught in the champagne filled "make it rain" dollars mentality. Christea Parent is unbelievably on point as the leader of the dames, the only one with a real purpose in life and the brains enough to stay out of the clutches of the gross "john” and the abusive bosses who take over the club by murdering the previous owner. 

 

Christea Parent, with the help of Kate Setzer Kamphausen’s fabulous period costumes, Keith Ryan’s hysterical and yet perfectly designed and coiffed wigs and Sydney Genco’s detailed makeup designs, (right down to the different types of fake eyelashes for each character) dominates the show with her singing, dancing and fast-talking character reminiscent of Barbara Stanwyck. I was dazzled by her mastery of the period acting while keeping her character both funny and deserving of compassion at every level.  

 

Almost all of my Hell in a Handbag fave performers were featured well in this production like Ed Jones, as Estelle, the "oldest whore" in the bunch. Jones is hysterical as always with his slightly breathy, tongue-in-cheek, sympathetic "grandmom” character of the group. Estelle, despite her age has found her perfect baby boy lover in the young Val, played with adorable youthful energy by another Handbag regular, handsome Chazie Bly. Their duet, “A Lovely Pair”, got some of the biggest laughs in the show's numbers and the perfect casting made their May/December romance absolutely understandable and even enviable. 

 

Caitlin Jackson, who blew me AWAY as “Bette, LIVE at the Continental Baths” a few months ago at Theater Wit is Gabby. Her aging and wise Betty Boop-style character is fully formed, lovable and again Jackson brought down the house with her amazing voice during the showstopper “Flim Flam Floozy”.

 

 Elizabeth Lesinski another Hell in a Handbag regular does an amazing job in her role, her comedic touch as perfect as ever. 

 

Wide-eyed director Steve Love enters the show to co-star as Betty Dwight, Mary’s naive kid sister who Mary is trying to keep in school and off the streets. Love is a breath of fresh air in the snake pit of despair these women swim in as the hopeful innocent, tap dancing her way into the audience’s hearts. 

 

Laura Coleman, one of the women playing a man characters is really funny and sharp as Frank Gorham, the attorney seeking justice of his own while Adrian Hadlock, also plays several characters and is really ingenious in his multi-layered portrayals of Crandall, Louie and the Judge.

 

“Lady X” has so many fun and wonderful twists and turns, it would be shame to spoil them all by giving them away, but suffice it to say David Cerda has once again created a whole new world all his own where the lines between male and female, innocent and guilty are marvelously blurred to show the vulnerability of all humankind when pressed to fight for their lives, livelihood and self-respect.

 

Cerda’s play is full of belly laughs from beginning to end and contains several very touching song numbers, like white picket fence, flower-filled "The House on the Hill", which all the women dream of retiring to, the song rounding out the hilarity with genuine sentiment. 

 

"Lady X" is destined to become another Hell in a Handbag hit.  

 

I highly recommend “Lady X"  for ladies , gentlemen and flim flam floozies everywhere seeking to escape from the horrors of the current political landscape facing the LGTBQ community and instead be surrounded by a joyous, celebration of strong women from all walks of life and the dangers they faced in the 30's as well as the dangers they face now.

 

“Lady X - The Musical" is being performed at Mary’s Attic in Andersonville through June 17th. For more show information or to purchase tickets visit http://www.handbagproductions.org/.   

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Hell in a Handbag Productions is pleased to open its 15th season with the world premiere of LADY X – A MUSICAL, a shocking exposé ripped from the headlines of yesteryear, playing from April 21 – June 10, 2017 at Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark St. in Chicago. Single tickets and season subscriptions are currently available at www.handbagproductions.org or by calling (800) 838-3006. 

 

Based on Handbag’s 2010 play of the same name, LADY X – A MUSICAL takes on the black and white crime melodrama films of the ‘30s and ‘40s. It’s the story of seedy nightclubs, the menacing gangsters who run them and the loose women that keep the customers coming back for more! Co-directed by Tommy Bullington and Steve Love with music direction by JD Caudill, the campy new musical parody features a book by Artistic Director David Cerda and music by Cerda and Scott Lamberty. Join Handbag for a glimpse into the world of the 'clip-joint' from days gone by filled with sassy dames, crooked hoods and the regular Joes trying to make a buck. 

 

LADY X – A MUSICAL will feature Chazie Bly, David Cerda, Laura Coleman, Sydney Genco, Adrian Hadlock, Michael Hampton, Ed Jones, Josh Kemper, Elizabeth Lesinski, Steve Love, Michael S. Miller and Christea Parent.

 

Mary Dwight (Christea Parent) is a gorgeous dame and a tough cookie who knows the score (and then some). Mary spends her nights as a 'clip-joint hostess,' making the customers feel welcome, whether it's sharing a drink with them – or the evening. Mary's got all the angles figured out, until Scarlett Fontanelli (David Cerda) enters the picture. As deadly as she is beautiful, Scarlett will stop at nothing to gain control over this world of underground crime. But Frank Graham (Laura Coleman), a young idealistic Assistant District Attorney, will stop at nothing to bring Scarlett and the Fontanelli syndicate to its knees. Frank wants justice for decent citizens everywhere and for his sister Barbara, a casualty of the Fontanelli family business.

 

Join Mary and her unforgettable pals, the not so bright Emmy Lou (Elizabeth Lesinski), Estelle (Ed Jones), the good-natured tramp with a penchant for funnels and all the good time gals in a tale so startling... so lurid... that only Hell in a Handbag Productions would dare tell it!

 

The production team for LADY X – A MUSICAL includes: Roger Wykes (set design), Austin Lemoine (costume design), Rachel Lake (lighting design), and Mealah Heidenreich (props), Sydney Genco (makeup design) and Michelle Kidd (asst. stage manager).

 

PRODUCTION DETAILS:

 

Title: LADY X – A MUSICAL

Book: David Cerda

Music: David Cerda and Scott Lamberty

Co-Directors: Tommy Bullington and Steve Love

Music Director: JD Caudill

Choreographer: Steve Love 

Cast: Chazie Bly (Val), David Cerda (Scarlett Fontanelli), Laura Coleman (Frank Graham), Sydney Genco (Ruby), Adrian Hadlock (Crandall), Michael Hampton (Ape), Ed Jones (Estelle), Josh Kemper (Nelson), Elizabeth Lesinski (Emmy Lou), Steve Love (Betty), Michael S. Miller (Gordon) and Christea Parent (Mary).

 

Dates: Previews: Friday, April 21 at 7:30 pm, Sunday, April 23 at 6 pm and Thursday, April 27 at 7:30 pm

Regular run: Saturday, April 29 – Saturday, June 10, 2017

Curtain Times: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Sundays at 6:00 pm. Please note: there will not be a performance on Sunday, May 7 or Sunday, June 4. 

Tickets: Previews $12. Regular run $26 in advance, $30 at the door. VIP tickets with cocktail $38 and up. Group rates $21 for or more. Tickets are currently available at www.handbagproductions.org or by calling (800) 838-3006.

 

About the Creative Team

 

David Cerda (Book/Music) is the co-founder and Artistic Director of Hell in a Handbag Productions. He has written and appeared in POSEIDON! An Upside Down Musical, The Birds, Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer, SCARRIE The Musical, Caged Dames, Lady X, How Whatever Happened to Baby Jane Happened, TROGG! A Rock and Roll Musical, Christmas Dearest, Scream, Queen! SCREAM!, The Rip Nelson Halloween Spooktacular and Sexy Baby. His plays have been produced around the country. He has also worked as a songwriter/lyricist with Amazon Films on an animated project and as an actor with various theater companies throughout the city of Chicago. This year Cerda has also been named as an inductee into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame for his contributions to Chicago theatre.

 

Scott Lamberty (Music) is a composer, arranger, sound designer and audio engineer who has been bringing sound and music to the Chicago theater scene since the early 1990s. He has written and produced musical scores for more shows than he can count including The Bad Seed The Musical and The Passion Follies at Corn Productions; and Poseidon An Upside Down Musical, The Birds and Rudolph The Red-Hosed Reindeer at Hell in a Handbag Productions. His work as an audio engineer has included the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Lyric Opera, Chicago a capella, Music of the Baroque and the Elgin Symphony Orchestra. He is the recording engineer for the Ravinia Steans Music Institute.

 

Tommy Bullington (Co-Director) is excited to return to Hell in a Handbag Productions after being seen onstage in The Rip Nelson Holiday Spectacular and served as understudy Chaz Bono in Skooby Don't. Other creative credits include co-directing Circle Theatre’s hit comedy Triassic Parq, serving as assistant director for Factory Theatre’s Hey Dancin! Hey Musical! and assistant directing Drury Lane Oakbrook’s Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Performing credits include Urinetown the Musical (Officer Barrel) with Boho Theatre, 180 Degree Rule (Berlitz/Freddy) with Babes with Blades Ensemble, Jesus Christ Superstar (King Herod) with Theo Ubique and Return of Neverland (Smee) with Quest Theatre for which he won a Jeff Award for Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical.  Tommy has also worked with such companies as Porchlight Music Theatre, Raven Theatre, Kokandy Productions and Emerald City Theatre.

 

Steve Love (Co-Director/Choreographer) is a Handbag ensemble member, and a two-time Jeff Award nominee (Best Supporting Actor, Best Choreography). Recent creative credits include last year's production of Christmas Dearest (Director/Choreographer, HIAH), and Northlight Theatre's production of Charm (Choreographer). Recent performing credits include Miracle! (Helen) with HIAH; Kin Folk (Arethin) and Stanley in the Name of Love (Stanley) with The New Colony. Steve has worked on stages on the East Coast, the Midwest and throughout the Caribbean aboard Disney Cruise Lines. 

 

JD Caudill (Music Director) is an emerging director and music director from Ohio, where they studied musical theatre performance, directing and psychology at Bowling Green State University. Since arriving in Chicago two years ago, they have directed for The New Colony (Face the Day), Arc Theatre (Can Cause Death; Homecoming), Hobo Junction (Aquaman!; Urges), Broken Nose Theatre (Tuesday), 20% Theatre (Ellen, The Bean, and Nelle), Red Theatre (Ring a Bell), The Runaways Lab Theatre (Spectrum), Paragon Theatre (The Rhode Island Chapter), co-directed After Orlando (Pride Plays and Films), and was featured as a director in Haven Theatre’s first Director’s Haven (Jane Doe 232). This is JD’s fourth time music directing for Hell in a Handbag Productions (Skooby, Don’t!; The Rip Nelson Holiday Spectacular; Christmas Dearest), and they created harmonies and coached vocals for The New Colony’s Stanley in the Name of Love. Along with directing and music directing, they’ve stayed busy assistant directing for The New Colony (Kinfolk; Stanley in the Name of Love), The Metropolis (R&G Are Dead), 16th Street Theater (Merchild; Agreed Upon Fictions), and Hobo Junction (Sure Thing). 

 

About Hell in a Handbag Productions

Hell in a Handbag is dedicated to the preservation, exploration, and celebration of works ingrained in the realm of popular culture via theatrical productions through parody, music and homage. Handbag is a 501(c)(3) Not for Profit.

 

For additional information, visit www.handbagproductions.org.

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

Hold the presses! Hell in a Handbag Productions announced today it will open its 15th season with the world premiere of LADY X – A MUSICAL, a shocking exposé ripped from the headlines of yesteryear! LADY X will replace the previously announced musical VALLEY!, from April 21 – June 11, 2017 at Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark St. in Chicago.  

 

Based on Handbag’s 2010 play of the same name, LADY X – A MUSICAL takes on the black and white crime melodrama films of the ‘30s and ‘40s. It’s the story of seedy nightclubs, the menacing gangsters that run them and the loose women that keep the customers coming back for more! Co-directed by Tommy Bullington and Steve Love with music direction by JD Caudill, the campy new musical parody features a book by Artistic Director David Cerda, music by Cerda and Scott Lamberty. Join Handbag for a glimpse into the world of the 'clip-joint' from days gone by filled with sassy dames, crooked hoods and the regular Joes trying to make a buck. Single tickets and season subscriptions are currently available at www.handbagproductions.org or by calling (800) 838-3006. The press opening is Friday, April 28 at 7:30 pm.

 

Mary Dwight is a gorgeous dame and a tough cookie who knows the score (and then some). Mary spends her nights as a 'clip-joint hostess,' making the customers feel welcome, whether it's sharing a drink with them – or the evening. Mary's got all the angles figured out, until Scarlett Fontanelli (David Cerda) enters the picture. As deadly as she is beautiful, Scarlett will stop at nothing to gain control over this world of underground crime. But Frank Graham, a young idealistic Assistant District Attorney, will stop at nothing to bring Scarlett and the Fontanelli syndicate to its knees. Frank wants justice for decent citizens everywhere and for his sister Barbara, a casualty of the Fontanelli family business.

 

Join Mary and her unforgettable pals, the not so bright Emmy Lou (Elizabeth Lesinski), Estelle (Ed Jones), the good natured tramp with a penchant for funnels and all the good time gals in a tale so startling... so lurid... that only Hell in a Handbag Productions would dare tell it!

 

The production team for LADY X – A MUSICAL includes Austin Lemoine (costume design) and Mealah Heidenreich (props).

 

PRODUCTION DETAILS:

 

Title: LADY X – A MUSICAL

Book: David Cerda

Music: David Cerda and Scott Lamberty

Co-Directors: Tommy Bullington and Steve Love

Music Director: JD Caudill

Choreographer: Steve Love 

Cast: David Cerda (Scarlett Fontanelli), Ed Jones (Estelle) and Elizabeth Lesinski (Emmy Lou). Additional casting to be announced.

 

Dates: Previews: Friday, April 21 at 7:30 pm, Sunday, April 23 at 6 pm and Thursday, April 27 at 7:30 pm

Regular run: Saturday, April 29 – Sunday, June 11, 2017

Curtain Times: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Sundays at 6:00 pm. Please note: there will not be a performance on Sunday, May 7 or Sunday, June 4. 

Tickets: Previews $12. Regular run $26 in advance, $30 at the door. VIP tickets with cocktail $38 and up. Group rates $21 for or more. Tickets are currently available at www.handbagproductions.org or by calling (800) 838-3006.

 

Published in Buzz Extra

Hell in a Handbag Productions is thrilled to kick-off 2017 with the announcement of its 15th season. Comments Artistic Director David Cerda, “We really want to thank our audiences for keeping us going for the past 15 years with their love and support, so we are doing a mix of new, old and most requested from our audience for our audience.” 

 

The 2017 season launches in the spring with the world premiere of VALLEY!, a rollicking unauthorized musical parody of the camp classic film and best-selling book Valley of the Dolls. Written by David Cerda, Handbag tells the tale through the lens and life of its legendary author, Jacqueline Susann. Expect lots of booze, pills and (gasp) pre-marital sex!

 

For Halloween, Handbag definitely offers up a treat with the world premiere of BEWILDERED, a musical parody of the classic TV sitcom Bewitched, with book by Ron Weaver, lyrics and music by Ron Weaver and Aaron Benham and directed by Brigitte Ditmars. The spellbinding throwback is told from the point of view of Gladys Kravitz, the poor, misunderstood neighbor who keeps seeing crazy things at the home of Samantha Stephens, a beautiful witch, and her ‘ordinary family.’ Gladys’ husband Abner has had enough and is about to take drastic measures. Can Gladys prove her visions are real without destroying the Stephens family – or is she doomed to a life of pills and institutions? BEWILDERED will feature ensemble members Caitlin Jackson as Gladys Kravitz, Ed Jones as Uncle Arthur and David Cerda as Endora.

 

Finally, Handbag celebrates the holidays by bringing back its most popular show ever, RUDOLPH THE RED-HOSED REINDEER 2017 by David Cerda and directed by AJ Wright. A parody of the 1967 Rankin Bass television special, Rudolph has become a subversive Chicago classic that celebrates the MISFITS of the world. Chicago’s favorite transvestite reindeer celebrates his 21st anniversary this year – and Cerda always adjusts the show to fit the current social climate. 

 

In addition to its mainstage shows, Handbag is also pleased to present THE GOLDEN GIRLS – THE LOST EPISODES. Join Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia on the lanai at Mary’s Attic this summer for some episodes that didn’t quite make it on the air. Plus, Handbag’s very own celebrity Rip Nelson’s long lost talk show has finally surfaced in Rip Nelson, AFTER DARK. The original tapes were thought to be destroyed in a grease fire at Dom Deluise’s annual legendary Hawaiian themed Labor Day pig roast – but now they’ve been restored for Handbag audiences to enjoy late night at Stage 773

 

Handbag’s 15th Anniversary Season will be staged at Mary’s Attic (5400 N. Clark St., Chicago) and Stage 773 (1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago). Season subscriptions and single tickets are currently available at www.handbagproductions.org. 

 

Hell in a Handbag Productions’ 15th Anniversary Season includes:

 

April 27 – June 10, 2017

VALLEY! – World Premiere!

An Unauthorized Musical Parody 

By David Cerda

at Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark St., Chicago

 

Handbag presents a musical parody of the cult camp classic Valley of the Dolls like only they could. Join aspiring model/actress Ann Wells Fargo, the talented and self-destructive Needy Mascara, and the beautiful but doomed Jennifer South for an evening of fame, fashion, sex and dolls…so many dolls…

 

June 6 – July 12, 2017

THE GOLDEN GIRLS – THE LOST EPISODES

By David Cerda, Directed by Shade Murray

at Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark St., Chicago

 

Handbag’s way of thanking you for being a friend this summer! Enjoy lost, never-before-seen episodes of The Golden Girls featuring Dorothy, Rose, Blanche, Sophia and all of the siblings, daughters, sons, and rare diseases that were mentioned once, but never again. There will be Golden Girls trivia and costume contests to help fully embrace the Miami experience. 

 

September 27 – November 11, 2017

BEWILDERED – World Premiere!

Book by Ron Weaver, Music and Lyrics by Ron Weaver and Aaron Benham

Directed by Brigitte Ditmars

Featuring ensemble members David Cerda (Endora), Caitlin Jackson (Gladys Kravitz) and Ed Jones (Uncle Arthur)

at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago

 

A reimagining of the beloved ‘60s and ‘70s television sitcom Bewitched, as seen through the eyes of Gladys Kravitz, Samantha Stephens’ iconic nosy neighbor. Poor Gladys knows what she sees next door is real, but can she prove it in time to save herself from being committed? Gladys finally gets her due in this fun and magical musical parody.

 

October 14, 2017 – November 11, 2017 

RIP, AFTER DARK

By David Cerda

Featuring ensemble member Ed Jones

at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago

 

Ed Jones returns as Handbag’s favorite faux D-list celebrity – and this time he’s a late, late night talk show host with a bevy of C-list celebrities. Come see Rip Nelson in his little known talk show with some of the most intriguing mix of actors, singers and comedians of the time. Relive the smoke-filled gabfests of long ago with your favorite long lost entertainers in an intimate setting.

 

November 25 – December 30, 2017

RUDOLPH THE RED-HOSED REINDEER 2017

at Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark St., Chicago

 

Chicago’s favorite cross-dressing reindeer is back and he’s 21 years old! Hell in a Handbag closes its season with its most popular show ever. RUDOLPH THE RED-HOSED REINDEER, a parody of the classic children’s television special had its first reading in 1996 and has evolved into one of Chicago’s best anti-holiday, holiday shows. Join Rudolph and all of his misfit friends as they struggle with fitting in and being ‘normal’ in an increasingly abnormal world. 

 

About Hell in a Handbag Productions

 

Hell in a Handbag is dedicated to the preservation, exploration, and celebration of works ingrained in the realm of popular culture via theatrical productions through parody, music and homage. Handbag is a 501(c)(3) Not for Profit.

 

Published in Buzz Extra

I was a "psychonaut librarian” as a child without even knowing it. My grandparents’ house was only two blocks from the beautifully built, stunning Coral Gables Library in South Miami, Florida.

 

I spent all my spare time there, drinking in the smell of library books and wisdom. Each new book I read seemed to open a new world for me. First, they were fantasy worlds, like The Phantom Tollbooth, later I began to read more and more about psychology and self-help, each time hoping that the book in my hands would offer an insight into having the happy, successful dreamy life I imagined lay ahead.  Yes, I was a shy, gentle book nerd, and I felt often that reading was the answer to all my problems. 

 

Sean Kelly's "Psychonaut Librarians", now in a world premiere with The New Colony is a funny, delightful poetically phrased tale about a mother and daughter and their fellow book worm friends discovering magical worlds at the library. 

 

Librarian Hester, played with both warmth and biting wit by David Cerda (Artistic Director of the hugely popular campy Hell in a Handbag Productions), is trying to save her daughter Jane (Christine Mayland Perkins) from giving up on her dreams and into society's constant fear creating machine. Hester a single mother to Jane, greets her with the single revealing question about her ex, "How is Daddy? Still suffocatingly small-minded?".

 

Hester has developed a potion that allows her to go all the way into the fantasy world of reading into a place she calls "Anyverse" where anything can happen and dreams do not die without a fight. 

 

Hester shares the potion with her grown daughter one night and while in the Anyverse Jane meets a lover named Dewey, played with much joy by Matt Farabee, a handsome Christ-like figure of love and innocence.  

 

In each other's arms Jane finds true love. They dance and fly through the Anyverse on a beautifully lit, ever changing, yet intimate, stage. Dewey tells Jane the ultimate romantic verse, "{In Jane) I found what I did not even know I was looking for and in finding her, I found myself," Jane stares into his loving, smiling face and states that this meeting is one of the "perfect moments” that she will add to her sadly short list of perfect moments. 

 

But of course, as in "real" life, the enjoyment of freedom of life and love in the Anyverse is threatened by an evil force called The Sandman played with the proper amount of military, know it all, fear inducing power by Jack McCabe.

 

The Sandman has the ability to literally suck the soul out of each human by drawing out their worst fears and causing them to act on them instead of holding fast to positive thinking. 

 

Despite their obviously great and perfect matching Dewey flip flops helplessly from loving adoration to murderous hatred for Jane in an instant and begins to strangle Jane each time The Sandman makes him insecure about her love by sending him negative subconscious suggestions. 

 

Jane's mother Hester sees this pattern of abuse and danger to her daughter and makes the ultimate sacrifice by chasing the Sandman away with the promise that she will not ALLOW her daughter to awaken from the dreary, fear filled thought patterns of everyday earth "reality" into the Anyverse ...ever again. 

 

When Jane is awakened from the Anyverse by her mother and is forced to part with Dewey, Jane becomes bitter about life and retreats from taking chances, creativity, or really falling in love and trying new things to follow the strict societal mores dictated by The Sandman about choosing work and security above joyous spontaneity.

 

Sadly, this division leads Jane to become estranged from her own loving, creative mother and the library itself, a symbol of the power of imagination - for 20 years.

 

Jane is inexplicably drawn to the library on the eve of her mother's retirement, where Hester’s fellow Psychonaut Librarians have arranged a "potion" party to enter the Anyverse all together. 

 

Hester's fellow librarians, the stiff-necked Emmerick (Michael Peters) and hopeful, brainy free spirit, Rosemary (Morgan McNaught) and the library's "security guy" (Carlos Olmedo), who also ends up drinking the spiked punch, are all played with excellent comic timing, and their scenes are some of the funniest and most clever dialogue in the show. 

 

This hopeful, desperate for magic crew of psychonauts enter the Anyverse together and immediately each is tested by the dreams, or rather nightmares, of their own worst fears of failure.

 

There are puppets used to represent the fearful dreams and perfected in a clever bit where the puppets are used to represent the characters’ abilities to walk through walls or make themselves small enough to escape a demon dream through a crack in a solid wall. Hester makes a great sacrifice to help rescue them all. 

 

The great thing is that each character, no matter how weak their "punches or kicks' may be, are forced to physically take a stand and fight! Each character must really wrestle and fight to defeat their bad dreams and thought patterns. 

 

In the end, Jane returns to the library without her lover Dewey - but with a newfound belief in the power of magic, and the existence of magic itself. Magic that is ALIVE right there alongside her in the library of life - and the reality of alternate positive realms, exciting realities beyond her own. 

 

Director Krissy Vanderwarker does the best she can on a limited budget to create a romantic pacing and lovely, magical choreography for Jane and Dewey that transitions well into the more comical present day or fantasy scenes. 

 

Kelly's script has gone thru many cuts over the years but is approaching a more perfect balance between what is both a supernatural love story and an "Universal" love story that boldly, yet sensitively, declares the existence of an alternate reality based entirely on love. 

 

The line, "I found what I did not even know I was looking for!  And in finding her, I found myself" kept haunting me after the show ended, as did several of the poetic speeches delivered by Jane to Dewey while sharing flowing descriptions of the deliciousness of their loving, soaring, literally "flying" in each other's arms new love... in words. These scenes were very well written and sometimes seemed like they belonged in an entirely different show. 

 

The character of Dewey, with his shoulder length dirty blonde hair, casual hoody, sandals and all-encompassing smile is best interpreted as a Christ figure, a non-sexual person, a teacher and guru of unconditional love living forever in the Anyverse. Dewey was not supposed to become a human man whose sexual partnership in the "real" world or like a Prince in a fairy tale whose marriage to Jane would effortlessly make her life into an adventure or positivity and magic. 

 

The playwright makes it clear to the end that the daily decision to hold tightly to and fight for her own dreams is up to Jane herself, which is as it should be.

 

Before the show began, the artistic director came out and mentioned how MANY scripts they have been receiving as of late, eluding to the election of Trump (The Sandman himself?), from new writers and how EAGER artists now are to have their words HEARD.

 

I highly recommend this funny, romantic, hopeful show for audiences of any age. “Psychonaut Librarians” would also make a valuable children's theater piece.

 

"Your soul is not living inside your body; your body is living inside your soul.” 

 

For heart weary adult Democrats like myself who are literally praying for a magical happy ending to what appears to be a complete takeover of millions of American minds by the evil Sandman, “Psychonaut Librarians” offered me a wonderful evening of hope, encouragement and rainbow lit entertainment. 

 

New Colony’s “Psychonaut Librarians” is playing at Den Theatre through February 12th. For more show information of to purchase tickets, click here

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Are you old enough to remember Saturday morning cartoons? I mean when there was no other place or time on TV to watch three hours of children's cartoon TV shows? Well, if you are, like me, you'll remember the "Scooby Doo" show whose lead character was a talking dog who rolled with the teenage mystery solvers from Mystery Inc. 

 

In "Skooby Don't" written by David Cerda, Artistic Director of the wonderful Hell In a Handbag Production Company, every hysterical aspect of the original show is poked at, like the fact that Scooby and his pal Shaggy both look and act like stoners the whole time and that the whole gang runs screaming in fear every time they finally confronted a ghost/monster.

 

But Cerda as always, takes a funny satire and turns it into a touching and even educational LGBTQ production that leaves the whole audience with something interesting and uplifting to ponder over long after they've left the theater. 

 

In order to stay safe of copyright laws the characters names have been slightly changed to even funnier names. Daphne is called Daffy played delightfully by ensemble member Elizabeth Lesinsky, smart and sassy Velma is now Velva (or “Vulva”) also very funnily played by Caitlin Jackson. I recently reviewed Ms. Jackson in her role as Bette Midler and she has an AMAZING singing voice as well. Fred is Fredd with two D’s, Shaggy becomes Scaggy and Scooby Doo trades in his “C” for a “K,” becoming Skooby and instead becomes “Don’t”. Cerda even jokes at one point about the subtle changes.

 

When Velva decides to take the whole gang to her aunt's house for a reunion vacation her aunt turns out to be Cher! Cher played by ensemble member Ed Jones is joined by two famous contemporary house guests Caitlyn Jenner (Chazie Bly), Kris Jenner (Cerda) and Cher’s disgruntled bellboy/son Chaz (Caitlin Boho). With this wild cast of characters only Cerda could put together, it doesn’t take long before a zany mystery ensues and the gang quickly becomes detectives.

 

This quartet of famous faces was absolutely a collection the funniest bits in the whole show. Ed Jones makes the BEST, funniest, tongue to lip touching Cher I have ever seen! David Cerda as Kris Jenner and Chazie Bly as Caitlynn Jenner have all the gestures and voice patterns down pat while Caitlin Boho who plays a plump, unshaven Chaz, had me laughing out loud with almost every single line she delivered. 

 

Kudos and credit must go to their AMAZING costumer Kate Setzer Kamphausen and Hell in a Handbag's wig master Keith Ryan because their makeup and hair fit EVERY character to a tee! 

 

People ask me why I enjoy Cerda's characters so much, enough to go to every production they put on without question and the reason is simple. They are always brilliantly funny. Add the fact that if these men and women can do such a great job of playing full on "dress up" and do it with such care and relish, it always makes me feel that SOMEONE else understands how hard it is to be a woman!

 

Cerda's characters don't make fun of women, they celebrate women and men of all kinds, sizes and shapes and even though they have to wear a lot of makeup, wigs and six inch heels they do it because they ENJOY doing all the things they associate with being women. David Cerda has a wonderful and blessed knack for creating female characters in his plays, even those beautiful women with "resting bitch face" - like his very popular Joan Crawford - to be  worthy of love and respect by the end of each show.

 

The entire cast including the supporting roles were dynamite. Cerda, Jones and Lesinsky just seems to get funnier and funnier with each production, this time capturing the precise essence of the vain and ditzy Daffy. In Skooby Don’t, Cerda puts forth yet another all-around stellar ensemble, perfectly casting the Mystery Gang and guest characters. 

 

I highly recommend this fun, campy yet sympathetic piece, which is kind of like a transgender Halloween party! Skooby Don’t is currently being performed at Mary’s Attic in Andersonville. For tickets, showtimes and more show information, visit www.Handbag productions.org.

Published in Theatre Reviews
Monday, 13 June 2016 12:13

The Divine Sister, Comedy That Heals!

Charles Busch, creator of the camp classics, Die, Mommie, Die!, Psycho Beach Party and Vampire Lesbians of Sodom seems to have written The Divine Sister just for David Cerda and his fabulous cast of rotating members in Hell in a Handbag Productions.

 

Affectionately making fun of films like The Song of Bernadette, The Bells of St. Mary's, The Singing Nun and Agnes of God, and a strong dose of The Davinci Code, The Divine Sister actually pulls some great ideals out of each and makes some wonderful points during all the fun and mayhem about what it means to "believe" in God and miracles within a religion that doesn't believe in you - if you are female or gay. 

 

David Cerda as Mother Superior rules the roost as always with a performance combining the essences of Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell with both sparkling humor and unexpected tenderness. While trying to raise money to rebuild her crumbling church Mother Superior is confronted with all sorts of "obstacles", which really turn out to be miracles in disguise. 

 

The young postulant, Agnes, played by Charlotte Mae Ellison, who is seeing visions and “experiencing” the signs of stigmata also turns out to be Mother Superiors long lost daughter. While one hilarious twist occurs after the next, the object of a Davinci Code type search also reveals Agnes to be the reincarnation of "Joyce" the long forgotten older sister of Jesus Christ himself whose body was entombed beneath this very church.  Joyce is the actual doer of the miracles attributed to Jesus. I thought this was a marvelous feminist plot twist that could have been explored even further. Ellison is beautiful and perky in the role, epitomizing the young nun image of early 1960s TV, but I felt she needed to add a few subtler layers to her physical comedy and vocal levels in order to compete with the more mature comedic players surrounding her. 

 

Levi Holloway deserves special kudos, both as sinister albino Brother Venerius searching for Joyce's incarnation and particularly as film producer Jeremy who is still wholly devoted or should I say HOLY devoted to his long lost love of Cerda's Mother Superior from her pre-nunnery days as a brilliant news reporter Susan. Levi Holloway really DELIVERS the comedy, especially in the extremely rapid fire monologues and fast talking flashbacks to their exciting early reporter days of flirtation and falling in love with each other through words, glorious words. 

 

Performed at Ebenezer Lutheran Church in Andersonville, the setting couldn’t be more appropriate. John Holt has transformed this actual church into a fully functioning and beautifully lit theater "church" with stained glass and special effects that heighten the drama perfectly from scene to scene. At the same time, Keith Ryan and Kate Setzer Kamphausen’s wig and costume designs are absolutely essential for each character and mind-blowingly funny. 

 

The neighboring atheist, a bitter Jewish woman who turns out to be Mother Superior’s long lost mother Mrs. Levinson, as well as a gender-confused Convent student named Timmy, are both wonderfully played by Chad.  Chad is on top of his game and totally hilarious in both roles, brilliantly delivering Busch' complex, fast and funny monologues without tripping once. Ed Jones as Sister Acacius also puts forth a thoroughly entertaining performance. It is always a pleasure to see Cerda and Jones in action together, as their chemistry is tough to beat. 

 

The Divine Sister isn't just about the miracle of three generations of women being reunited with their daughters, it also strikes a real blow at a church system which denies sexuality to its members in ANY form, gay or hetero and as a result denies each of these women and men a chance at living a full life unless they realize the folly of prolonged abstinence - a FORCED shame and despair filled type of abstinence, not voluntary, which was never prescribed by the bible anyway. 

 

The laughs don’t stop. There are so many funny subtleties and bits of finely aimed sardonic humor mixed in with sidesplitting over the top scenes such as Cerda and Ellison’s lip-synced duet and dance to the backing track of a number of pure cheesiness.   

 

Highly recommended for a night of fun-filled camp and silliness with a few heartfelt messages about the reality of miracles that come into your life whether you believe in God or not. 

 

The Divine Sister is being performed at Ebenezer Lutheran Church through July 10th. To find out more about this very funny show, visit www.handbagproductions.org. 

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

I've seen Hell in a Handbag’s production of “Christmas Dearest” before and the dazzling funny and yet touching show has now officially become part of my true Holiday tradition. The reason being is that it takes the classic tale "A Christmas Carol" and throws some six-inch, size 11 heeled, f*ck me pumps on it, tosses back a martini, lights up an extra-long cigarette and says "We love you just the way you are”.  It is Christmas time - the time for Love and Acceptance is really here happening in Chicago! 

 

David Cerda wrote the script and the book for this adorable musical theater piece and I am continuously blown away by his huge amount of talent. 

 

Always one to give his shows 110 percent of his energy, no matter how many hats he has to wear at once, I must say Cerda was absolutely on FIRE with the spirit of Joan Crawford at the opening night performance!! Joan has been asked to play "Mary, the Mother of God” on the big screen and Cerda plays her searingly with beauty, ugliness and star charisma. 

 

Crawford is cheap and cruel and wants to force the entire cast to work on Christmas Day.  Soon the witchy Crawford is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. Even the actual "Mary, Queen of Heaven" comes down from her  Royal Heavenly Throne to advise Crawford that she better shape up or she'll be dead soon, along with her dying career.

 

Hell in a Handbag's company of regulars are essential including the ever-reliably hysterical Ed Jones as Crawford's empathetic assistant/slave. New additions also add punch such as recent Northwestern graduate Frankie Leo Bennett as Crawford's now infamous biographer daughter, Christina, and Roosevelt University undergrad Alexa Castelvecchi who has a great voice and  lovely stage presence as a young Crawford who is shown to have once been a caring, generous young girl before "Hollywood casting couches” and politics ruined her psychologically. 

 

Also deserving of extra special mention is "Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come” in the form of Bette Davis, played to laughable perfection by Caitlin Jackson dressed in a fantastically dead on and literally dead "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" costume. 

 

The hysterical and perfectly tailored costumes for every single character by Kate Setzer Kamphausen, and equally indispensable wigs designed by Keith Ryan were colorful and perfectly dated in the most kitschy way possible for maximum laughs. 

 

Now there are some great theater companies in Chicago where the founder or artistic director would not be missed if absent from a single production but David Cerda is not one of them. Cerda displayed his complete control over the cast and audience when he reached for a martini accidentally placed a few feet too far from his chaise and got the biggest laugh from the audience when he addressed us with a droll improvised "Eight weeks of rehearsal...". 

 

I highly recommend this darling, genuinely laugh out loud funny and open-minded musical production to everyone ready to rock and possibly drink their way through their heartbroken holidays! Christmas Dearest is being performed at Mary’s Attic in Andersonville through December 29th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.handbagproductions.org. 

Published in Theatre Reviews

When October rolls along, Chicagoans have always been fortunate as far as the variety of Halloween events that take place around the city. And while many of these events take the form of haunted houses or annual midnight runs of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Hell in a Handbag Productions offers a much more thrilling, unique and hilarious option in “Scream, Queen, Scream!”. Set in Mary’s Attic, the intimate theatre space just above Mary’s Hamburgers on Clark Street in Andersonville, “Scream, Queen, Scream!” is the riotously funny brainchild of writer David Cerda who once again masterfully blends his own distinctive blend of sardonic humor with a strong flavor of cult classic cinema.

Skillfully directed by W.M. Bullion, “Scream, Queen, Scream!” brings to life three terrifying tales hosted by “Dragula” who is wonderfully played by John Cardone. “Dragula” sets the mood for each upcoming vignette by joking and interacting with the crowd and prompting bloodcurdling screams at key moments during each performance. Yes, prepare to scream your ass off!

The first tale, “Taco Tuesday”, is an all too realistic at the terrors of working in an office environment. If the women’s dated 1980’s hairstyles and bad office jokes aren’t scary enough, a visit from Satana and a mysterious copy machine are sure give you nightmares. Candy with a “C” is the “funny one” even more so than Kandy with a “K”, but that changes when Candy’s suspicions puts her at odds against Satana, whom everyone else seems to adore. When all hell finally breaks loose it’s up to Candy to save the day but we wonder if it is too late. Perfect casting here as Kristopher Bottrall is simply dynamite as the ditzy Candy.

In tale number two, “The Box”, a suspicious crate is found and we just know nothing good can come of it. Taken from “The Crate” from the 1980’s film Creepshow, Cerda takes an already campy story and then takes it an extra few hundred miles. It’s not every day one finds a monster in a box and Hell in a Handbag certainly makes the most of it. Chad Ingold shines as Harvey, the tread upon husband of nagging and utterly obnoxious Betty Carr.

“Shut Up and Die, Maggie!” salutes the hag horror films of the 1960’s taking bits from the Bette Davis classics Hush, Hush, Sweet Caroline and Dead Ringer while throwing in a bit of Joan Crawford’s Strait Jacket (you had to figure we’d get a dose of Joan at some point). Ed Jones gets to show off his comedy genius once again as he plays twin sisters Maggie and Aggie Honeycutt, cleverly and uproariously portrayed by the delightfully devilish brilliance of Handbag and company. While one sister, Aggie, is educated, prudent and formal, the other is beautiful, lighthearted and everyone’s favorite. After Maggie’s boyfriend is savagely murdered, Maggie is blamed then committed to an insane asylum. Twenty years later, Maggie returns to her family only for more horrors to be revealed. 

“Scream, Queen, Scream!” is the perfect Halloween treat. Go see it. With a slew of intensely funny performances in multiple roles by Handbag’s talented ensemble and, of course, the very gifted David Cerda himself, this is an affordable show that can easily be enjoyed again and again. In fact, there is so much funny compacted into this warped trilogy of horror, and simultaneous humor going on at once, I would absolutely recommend seeing this a second or even third time.     

“Scream, Queen, Scream!” is being performed at Mary’s Attic through October 31st. For tickets and/or more show information visit http://www.handbagproductions.org/. Hell in a Handbag will also be holding their annual benefit “The Handbag Sampler” at Dank Haus Cultural Center on Sunday, October 18th where you can mingle with all your favorite Handbag characters while enjoying food and drinks. The event will include a raffle and silent auction. Tickets are priced at a very reasonable $90 or $80 if bought in advance at www.brownpapertickets.com.      

 

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

Hell in a Handbag Productions tests the boundaries of morality once again as only they can, this time kicking off its 2015-16 season with “Miracle!”, the hilarious lampoon of The Miracle Worker. Instead of Helen Keller, we meet Helen Stellar, a deaf and blind 20-year-old drag queen who is thrust into performing at The Brass Connection, otherwise known as The Ass Infection. Written by Dan Savage, a well-known authority and activist on sexuality and GLBTQ issues, “Miracle!” doesn’t hold any punches, unapologetically injecting its braised humor into its audience with rapid fire speed and pinpoint accuracy.

Artistic Director David Cerda is brilliant (as always) as Helen Stellar’s protective drag queen mother and biological father, Crystal Pain, owner and show coordinator of The Brass Connection. Cerda, a true master of satire, takes the role of Crystal and knocks it out of the park with his deadpan delivery, stark remarks and physical comedy. In “Miracle!” we also get a deluge of tremendously funny performances from Handbag favorites Ed Jones, Elizabeth Lesinski, Sydney Genco and Steve Love as well as newcomer Kristopher Bottrall who is very impressive as Bailey Legal.

Everything is going smoothly at The Brass Connection, or so it seems. Gloria Blaze (Jones), Sissy Jizzmore (Jamie Smith) and the girls perform in the club’s nightly revue while Helen Stellar stumbles her way through an awkward dance routine with the help of a shock collar that “protects” her from falling off the stage. But when Bailey Legal gets jealous of the attention that Helen receives, a call is made to Child Protective Services and an investigation ensues as to the child’s well-being. After assessing the situation, caseworker Annie Sullivan (Lesinski) determines that Helen’s environment is unfit for tapping into her true potential. It is soon agreed that Annie take Helen for a period of three weeks so that she can work with her one on one. This proves more difficult than anticipated as Annie tries to connect with Helen by pressing sign language into her hands in relation to surrounding objects. Of course this process, as done by Handbag is also brutally droll.

Still, Annie’s persistence pays off as we begin to see a transformation occur in Helen. As part of her therapy, Annie takes Helen to a lesbian bar (opening up another world to which Savage is able to find the humor) to work out her performance kinks in an attempt to show a shock collar is not needed. Performing with Helen during the bar’s Bearded Slam event is also therapeutic for Annie as she reaches deep inside herself to conquer her own stage insecurities. Before too long, it is time for Annie to return Helen to Crystal as we, the audience, wonder what the outcome will be.  

The humor is offensive, but tasty. It’s campy dialogue gutty and unforgiving yet we relate to it so easily. Perhaps we are looking at something in the neighborhood of Helen Keller meets The Birdcage on crack, and that would be putting it mildly.

As funny as “Miracle!” is, whether a dance and song routine with attitude and pizazz (“Stop in the Name of Love”, for one) or in its multitude of hilarious character interactions, there is actually a heartwarming story taking place with plenty of feel good moments. I’m not going to go as far to say that one might get teary-eyed, but it is certainly not beyond the realm of possibility. The show triumpantly ends with a big finale number that has audience members clapping to the beat and cheering for the show’s wonderfully colorful characters.  

As a longtime fan of Cerda, Jones and Lesinski, I am happy to say that this Handbag nucleus of comic wunderkinds have once again hit their stride in what is a fully entertaining story that generates laughs as quickly as its many wig changes.   

“Miracle!” is being performed through July 10th at Mary’s Attic, a cozy upstairs theatre located at 5400 N. Clark Street in Andersonville. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.handbagproductions.org. If you are looking for a night of memorable comedy in a fun atmosphere, this is a summer event that you will not want to miss. Hell in a Handbag Productions – the king, or queen, of parody done right. 

Published in Theatre Reviews
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