Review: Block Party 2018 Ends with Campy Noir Classic DIE, MOMMIE, DIE! at the Kirk Douglas Theatre
Written by Charles Busch and directed by Ryan Bergmann, the Celebration Theatre's production of DIE, MOMMIE, DIE! is being remounted by Center Theatre Group at the Kirk Douglas Theatre as the final selection of the second annual Block Party for which they received 53 submissions from intimate theatre companies in the greater Los Angeles area. Block Party 2018 also remounted Playwrights' Arena's production of "Bloodletting" and Critical Mass Performance Group's production of "Ameryka," with the three visiting companies each receiving the full support of Center Theatre Group and its staff in order to fund, stage and market each production.
For those not familiar with the unique style of Charles Busch, he is an American actor, screenwriter, playwright and female impersonator known for his appearances on stage in his own camp style plays, as well as in film and television. He is the author of "The Tale of the Allergist's Wife" which ran for nearly two years on Broadway and received a Tony Award nomination for Best Play. He wrote and starred in the film versions of his plays "Psycho Beach Party" and "Die Mommie Die!" with the latter winning him the Best Performance Award at the Sundance Film Festival. In 2003, Mr. Busch received a special Drama Desk Award for career achievement as both performer and playwright.
His play DIE, MOMMIE, DIE! is a campy noir classic that follows the devious actions of fading Hollywood star Angela Arden, played to the hilt by Drew Droege in drag. Think of Gloria Swanson in "Sunset Boulevard" and throw in a bit of Joan Crawford's attitude and you get the idea of who Angela Arden is. And let me tell you, Droege is a wonder running across the stage in high heels, always dressed to feminine perfection by costumer Allison Dillard. But Angela is trapped in an unhappy marriage and plots to kill her husband, Hollywood producer Sol Sussman (Pat Towne) in order to be with her young, and very well-hung lover Tony Parker (Andrew Carter). His endowment is a running gag throughout the play, aimed at almost every other character at some point, a bit too suggestive and sexy for young audiences.
But when Angela's children, Daddy's Girl Edith (mini-skirt clad Julanne Chidi Hill) and joyously gay Lance (Tom Detrinis who flits and floats in feathers around the stage) learn of her plot, they join forces to seek their own revenge. And all the while, Angela's housekeeper Bootsie (Gina Torrecilla) goes about her business, often loudly promoting her conservative Republican political views, hatred of communism, thoughts about the Vietnam War, all the while secretly in love with Sol. Who winds up with whom is fabulously revealed as the many revenge plots collide, somehow resulting in Angela regaining her stardom.
Ryan Bergmann's madcap direction keeps the action moving along quickly, with scenic design by Pete Hickok creating a two-story, classic Beverly Hills mansion in 1967 with a lovely garden. Lighting design by Matthew Brian Denman and sound design by Rebecca Kessin bring us a very loud and realistic storm, as well as several front-facing character poses highlighted in spotlights when important plot-giveaway lines are spoken, with enough song selections from the mid-60s to keep all baby boomers singing right along from "These Boots are Made for Walking" to "Downtown."
So throw caution (and reality) to the wind and be prepared to laugh at DIE, MOMMIE, DIE! continuing Tuesday through Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2 and 8pm, and Sunday at 1 and 6:30pm through May 20, 2018, performed with an intermission. Ticket Prices: $25 - $70 available online at www.CenterTheatreGroup.org, by calling Center Theatre Group Audience Services at 213.628.2772, in person at the Center Theatre Group Box Office at The Music Center, and at the Kirk Douglas Theatre two hours before curtain. Center Theatre Group's Kirk Douglas Theatre is located at 9820 Washington Blvd. in Culver City, CA 90232. Free three hour covered parking available at City Hall with validation (available in the Kirk Douglas Theatre lobby).
Photo credit: Craig Schwartz