BWW Review: WET's CHERDONNA'S DOLL'S HOUSE Beats the Joke to Death then Quits
If you're going to riff on a classic, then have something to add to the conversation. Sometimes it works beautifully such as the amazing "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead" or the current critically acclaimed Broadway hit "A Doll's House, Part 2". But without something new to add any kind of parody just becomes a self-indulgent pale rehash of the original. Such is the case with "Cherdonna's Doll's House" currently playing from Washington Ensemble Theatre.
In this take on Ibsen's classic "A Doll's House" we're still with Nora and Torvald (Leah Salcido Pfenning and Jason Sharp) as Nora attempts to find a way out of the idyllic world Torvald has created for her. But in this meta look at the piece, the play is being presented but with an intruder on stage, Drag Queen Cherdonna (Jody Kuehner). She emerges before the actors and wanders around set sharing with the audience that this is her favorite play. Then once the actors do enter she continually interjects her own comments on the show. Think of her like a six-foot needy toddler trapped on stage with her mother nowhere in sight. Some of the fellow actors think she's cute and funny while others find her annoying and distracting. Unfortunately, I fell into both camps.
The thing I find with drag shows is that, unless you have more than one bit of shtick, the act is only good for about five minutes (you know, the length of whatever song they're lip syncing). Cherdonna has her shtick of being in your face and always the center of attention as she undulates with stylized awkwardness. And when she came onto the stage it was funny. But then the same joke continued with her muttering and groping the set and the audience for five minutes. So, at first the laughs were there but you could hear the audience peter off as the joke just went on and on. As soon as the other actors joined her, things picked up a bit. Pfenning and Sharp brought in some great moments as actors getting more and more annoyed with this gnat interrupting their play as did Sally Brady as the maid. And then there were people like Samie Spring Detzer as Mrs. Linde, Brace Evans as Dr. Rank and Jeffrey Azevedo as Krogstad who seemed to find her antics fascinating if not downright hilarious. But those interactions quickly became tiresome as well as they never really varied.
Adapted by Kuehner along with director Ali Mohamed El-Gasseir, the show feels incredibly self-indulgent and without a goal. The gags go on way too long which can be funny but only if the audience is on board. Cherdonna mugs around the stage and repeatedly gets in the way, interrupts with a drag number, mugs some more, interrupts with another drag number, then demands they do the same number again, then demands they do the same number AGAIN ... well, you get the idea. And then they did something inexplicable, they abandoned the entire premise as Cherdonna is kicked off set and they proceed to take the last 10 minutes to actually do a scene from "A Doll's House". And while a well done version of the scene from Pfenning and Sharp, it had nothing to do with the tone of the piece that had preceded it. This went on until they ultimately just quit the show (literally) leaving the audience wondering if they should applaud and leave.
Yes, I get the correlation at the end between Cherdonna leaving and Nora leaving but unlike Nora, Cherdonna has no arc and learns nothing so it just amounts to 90 minutes of "Look at me. LOOK AT ME!" And so, with my three-letter rating system I give Washington Ensemble Theatre's "Cherdonna's Doll's House" and exasperated MEH. It had some funny moments but not enough to sustain an entire show which obviously they realized since they just gave up at the end.
"Cherdonna's Doll's House" from Washington Ensemble Theatre performs at 12th Avenue Arts through May 15th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.washingtonensemble.org.