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
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

 

10 Years! Fave Issue Covers

 

Register

Latest Articles