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

I thoroughly enjoyed this Hell in a Handbag Production starring the divine Caitlin Jackson, as the “Divine Miss M”, Bette Midler. The show takes us to the early days of Midler's career playing for gay audiences at the Continental baths for two years before her album, The Divine Miss M was released. 

 

Back in 1987 when I moved to New York after college I actually lived in The Ansonia for four years, a pre- war luxury building on New York's upper west side. I heard about the history of the building which included an entire circus complete with live elephants at one time living in the penthouse, and always wished I could have lived there in its heyday, when The Continental Baths was a gay bathhouse in the basement of The Ansonia Hotel, which was opened in 1968 by Steve Ostrow.

 

The features of this bathhouse included a disco dance floor, a cabaret lounge, sauna rooms, a narrow "Olympia Blue" swimming pool, bunk beds in public areas, and tiny rooms as one would find in any bathhouse. The facility had the capacity to serve nearly 1,000 men, 24 hours a day.

 

Jackson's MC, played adorably by Chad, mentions just a few of the features of the bathhouse like a vending machine which dispensed among other things KY Jelly, and a warning system that tipped off patrons when police arrived. He also points out an STD clinic, a supply of a lice-killing shampoo in the showers and how the hetero general public discovered the great shows going on underground and “ruined the scene". The baths were advertised as reminiscent of "the glory of ancient Rome".

 

Caitlin Jackson really captures the outrageous, open-minded spirit of Bette Midler. Most importantly though Jackson has the voice to really do justice to Midler’s renditions of “Superstar”, “Chattanooga Choo Choo”, and a sexy, bawdy cover of Bessie Smith’s “Empty Bed Blues”. Jackson also shines in her performances of “Chapel of Love”, “Hey Mambo” and delivered a heart wrenching, yet uplifting, “You Gotta Have Friends”.

 

Few people know that Barry Manilow was Bette Midler's accompanist during these years. Talk about two superstars finding each other at the right time! Jeremy Ramey as Barry Manilow is hysterical and really gets some great laughs as he plays the piano and captures the talented artist’s well known panache and flash. 

The show is filled out with the MC and two cutie pie twinks clad only in white towels the entire show played by TJ Crawford and Will Wilhelm. Although they are the author's invention they seem perfectly part of the show, giving Bette (Jackson) time to change in and out of her glamorous bosom enhancing outfits for number after great number. 

 

I really have to hand it to Caitlin Jackson, whose voice is capable of hitting Midler's high and low notes with seeming ease. Jackson also does her best in this slightly short production (1 hour 15 minutes with one intermission) to convey Bette Midler's HUGE personality and deeply penetrating sense of loneliness and compassion for the “cast outs” of the world - the ones "waiting on the corner for their friends to return."

 

Even if the songs were not actually part of Midler's bath house days, I left yearning to hear more, simply because Caitlin Jackson's voice was such a JOY to listen to and her face a wonderful mirror of Bette Midler's enthusiasm for life and love of the gay community without ever becoming a caricature.

 Highly Recommended. 

Bette, Live at the Continental Baths is being performed at Stage 773 through September 10th. More show info can be found at www.stage773.com. 

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

 

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