Theatre in Review

Fun! Funny! Funnier! If you are fan of The Golden Girls TV show, then run, don't walk, to see Hell in a Handbag’s The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes at Mary's Attic before its special, recently extended, run is over. The show opens with a heart lifting, hug your best friend singalong of the sitcom’s famed theme song, "Thank you for being a Friend" - in its fantastic entirety! 

Plenty of fans arrive in costume to see the show and in between the hysterically funny, bawdy, R-Rated "Lost Episodes” theatre goers are entertained by Golden Girls trivia contests with fun prizes, so live it up. 

Hell in a Handbag Artistic Director David Cerda wrote the show which parodies the famed 1980’s sitcom where four women who share a home in a Miami Senior Community are not ready to stop living life to the fullest. Cerda is fantastic as the deadpan Dorothy even with the use of just one syllable – “Mah!" David, who recently won a well-deserved special Jeff Award (Congrats!) for all of his amazing contributions to theatre in Chicago with his much beloved production company Hell in a Handbag, evokes laughs with every shoulder-padded shrug and anchors the show with his dead-on funny accuracy in the role of Dorothy that actress Bea Arthur made famous. 

I don't know how he does it but every single show David writes is unique, displays every cast members talents superbly, heartfelt and funnier than the last. In this show, he takes the iconic TV show and brings it to a new level, creating hysterically campy “lost episodes” that one could only wish took to the air during the series’ heyday.  

Blanche is played with true southern sex appeal by A. J. Wright. Wright is mind-blowingly accurate in his portrayal of the flirty man-eater. Wright is so convincing, I had to occasionally close my eyes and just listen with delight, because I really felt he was a woman channeling Rue Clanahan, not a man in drag. The razor-sharp tongued Sophia played by Adrian Hadlock is also right on the mark with his dry as a martini, machine gun-like delivery of every single one-liner.

Ed Jones rounds out this fearsomely funny foursome with his always gentle, never forced portrayal of the delicate and ditzy, Rose, often forced to do and say indelicate things! Handbag favorite Ed Jones is - as ever, roaringly funny and true to Betty White's every gesture, even to her dazed and confused looks of naivety. As in all of Handbag’s productions, Golden Girls is equipped with a stellar ensemble, this show including hilarious performances by Chazie Bly, Kristopher Bottrall, Grant Drager, Lori Lee, David Lipschutz, Terry McCarthy, Michael S. Miller and Robert Williams.

Not ignoring the other fine touches that make this such a fun experience, Myron Elliot’s costumes and Keith Ryan's wigs and makeup are a laugh riot in themselves and really help each actor achieve the eerie accuracy that makes this a true golden fest for fans of the show. 

David Cerda and I have some kind of strange psychic connection in that his shows always seem to coincide in some synchronistic way with things going on in my life and family, and Golden Girls was just what I needed to see. My mother and I lived in Miami Florida throughout my whole young adult life and the week I saw this production of Golden Girls (one of my mom's favorite shows to watch with me) she was in the hospital and I was extremely stressed and worried about losing her. When David says as Dorothy about her mother Sophia, "She's probably thinking back to her youth in the fields of Sicily," and then sighs, "God, I'd wish she'd just die," I had to let out a cathartic laugh because it was just such a perfectly funny, subtext of compassion coupled with frustration of the statement of all mother/daughter love when stretched to its limits. I loved it. Naturally, I don’t wish such a thing, but Cerda’s writing has a way of somehow finding love and humor in even such a statement.  

I didn't stop laughing or smiling from start to finish of this uproariously funny take on the Golden Girls that no fan should miss. Even if you are not familiar with the show, it’s worth checking out. Don't worry, you’ll pick it up quickly. And like many Hell in a Handbag shows, there is an intermission long enough to stretch, grab a drink and use the restroom which allows you to really allow the funniness of the first act to sink in. Increasingly I find myself enduring 90-minute or longer shows with no intermission as if the audience is trapped in some kind of marathon endurance test of our concentration and bladders! But not at Hell in a Handbag shows, which proves yet again that David Cerda is in tune with everything a Golden Girl needs to truly enjoy a laugh packed night out with your best friends. Much Thanks to David Cerda for "being a friend!”

Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes is being performed at Mary’s Attic in Andersonville on Wednesday and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m now extended through September 16th. Saturday dates have been added for August. Tickets are $20, but are just $16 if purchased in advance. To purchase tickets or to find out more about this hilarious show wonderfully directed by Shade Murray, visit handbagproductions.org.

Published in Theatre in Review

Wow! Get ready to be entertained and blown away by two men, with eighteen, yes eighteen, costume changes in a 105-minute play with lead mother figure Bertha Bumiller played by Anthony Whitaker in drag and Grant Drager playing most of the younger male and female characters (Arles, Didi, Stanley, Charlene, Jodi, Petey, Vera and Dixie). These two talents make for one hilarious and yet, at times, disturbing piece of theater now that Trump is President and the animal and human cruelty is perpetrated against each person who loves in the “the third smallest town in Texas”, a dump “where the Lion’s Club is too liberal and Patsy Cline never died.”

 

As announced on the local radio show the winning school essays include “Human Rights—Why Bother?” and “The Other Side of Bigotry”. And so begins Deep in the Heart of Tuna, the latest in the “Tuna” series, currently running at Pride Arts Center in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood.

 

I was unaware that adapter Ed Howard and original author-performers Joe Sears and Jaston Williams (Greater Tuna, A Tuna Christmas, and Red, White, and Tuna) had revived this new play from pieces of the trilogy above though it didn't affect my understanding of the hard lives these people live while having little money to keep up with their neighbors. People wearing third generation hand me downs and living on a farm-like house where the youngest and most sensitive son has ten dogs and a few kitty cats literally following him to school and back until he can find them adoption homes.  

 

I found the staging and lighting brilliant with audience members on both sides of the intimate theater performing space, putting us right in Bertha’s kitchen. Adding the finishing touch, are the costumes and wigs which are truly amazing and used to their ultimate. When I found that neither actor had a dresser to help them make these quick changes, I was even more impressed. Still knowing there were only two cast members, they played the men and women so touchingly and realistically funny, I could have sworn there was a cast of five people or more hidden in the wings. 

 

The town of Tuna can sometimes be a scary place where the "smut snatchers" a local anti-porn group try to expose the dirty words in Dickens Christmas Carol, including "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman", because you know, "Merry Gentlemen" is a little too close to gay gentleman in Tuna, Texas. 

 

The smut snatchers are busy cutting apart the children’s' Christmas pageant, which they have worked on for months. It is eventually canceled by the local school official and local government because the school does not have the funds to pay its electric bill, despite pleas to let the children perform, in part because one child needs this performance to complete his reform school probation and leave town without a criminal record (for painting over street signs). The lights are shut off and the show does not go on. At the same time a Christmas Phantom is on the loose in the neighborhood destroying outdoor holiday displays. There’s a lot going on in this small town. 

 

Anthony Whitaker's multilayered characterization of the mother figure as she struggles to make ends meet in this piece reminds me so much of my dear friend Louie Anderson's spectacular mother characterization in his new hit show "Baskets". 

 

Grant Drager, a newcomer to the New American Folk Theatre ensemble, plays the rest of the male and female characters with mind blowing accuracy and such poignancy. For his outstanding work in this two-man show, Drager really is deserving of a Jeff Award, as well as Whitaker.

 

Though many of the characters are run-of-the-mill, low-income Southern folks with seemingly good hearts, at times, the extreme stereotype Texas hard core right wingers are also demonstrated in the play. It's mind boggling that the small-mindedness of the latter mentioned characters of this tiny town exist in real life, boasting about and bringing forth soul crushing ideas along with anti-gay sentiments and anti-animal rights, i.e. and "Tuna" takes a few good shots. A great line that represents that type of mentality in this play is when Didi, who runs the local gun shop for her mother, says, "If we don't have a gun (or poison) to kill what you want, that thing is supernatural!" This show can make great but serious fun of that particular group on a few occasions though it mainly celebrates small town warmth, kindness and simplicity. Though "Tuna" often pokes fun of small town life in the South, it is done with affection, actually endearing us to several of the characters even more so.  

 

This satire of rural life is highly recommended for two of the most versatile and thought provoking performances in this play about a dysfunctional family and the small town problems that arise. Directed by Derek Van Barham, New American Folk Theatre's Deep in the Heart of Tuna is being performed at Pride Arts Center through March 5th. For show information or tickets, click here. Y'all hurry now!

 

 

Published in Theatre in Review

 

 

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