Review: RUTHLESS at New Conservatory Theatre Center

The production continues through January 7th.

By: Dec. 10, 2023
Review: RUTHLESS at New Conservatory Theatre Center
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San Francisco has its share of fine drag productions chock full of over-the-top satire and parody of almost every genre imaginable. Add New Conservatory’s excellent production of Joel Paley’s cult-hit Ruthless to that mix, a show so well done that it raises the bar on camp humor. What makes this show such a standout is that the cast, with one notable exception, are cisgender females. Real-life gay partners Paley and Laird based this piece on the cult classic film The Bad Seed with references to showbiz material from Gypsy to Mame. Ruthless is ripe with groan-worthy puns, flamboyant larger-than-life characters, and a plot so ridiculously soap opera-ish that it screams drag. The five female actors here are so exceptional at farce and parody that when mixed with San Francisco’s legendary drag artist J. Conrad Frank (aka The Countess Katya Smirnoff-Skyy) the results are a hilarious romp of comic absurdity.

Review: RUTHLESS at New Conservatory Theatre Center
Left to right: Mary Kalita (Judy Denmark), Melissa Momboisse (Tina Denmark), and J. Conrad Frank (Sylvia St. Croix).

The plot revolves around cute, precocious Tina Denmark, a child actor willing to kill for the lead in a school play. Ala The Bad Seed, her mother, grandmother, and acting coach are all blissfully unaware of the child’s malicious streak. The plot keeps getting increasingly tangled as the characters’ real identities are revealed, showbiz tropes about the grabbing of power, money, and fame are exposed, and a homicidal finale to end all shows. Dyan McBride does a bang-up directing job, allowing the actors free range to express the most outrageous traits of these ridiculous caricatures. Combined with Staci Arriaga’s choreography, Wes Crains stylish costuming, Deon Christopher Glass’ wigs, Matthew Owens's eye-popping set design, and Brittany Mellerson’s dramatic lighting, Ruthless is a stylishly cartoonish caper sure to please.

Review: RUTHLESS at New Conservatory Theatre Center
Hayley Lovgren as Miss Thorn

The casting is superb throughout. J. Conrad Frank plays the driven acting coach Sylvia St. Croix and hasn’t seen a scene he doesn’t try to steal. With his thick, sophisticated voice and wild histrionics, Frank drips with sarcasm and egotism. Melissa Momboisse is a hoot as the singing, dancing, malevolent child. Hayley Lovgren is the disgruntled third-grade teacher bitter over her lack of showbiz career. Jacqueline De Muro is Lita Encore, Tina’s boozy grandmother and theatre critic. Lucca Troutman plays a star-struck character straight out of All About Eve. My standout of the cast is Mary Kalita as Tina’s Stepford mother Judy Denmark. With a beautiful voice, Kalita mugs her way as the extremely polite mother, blissfully unaware of her absent husband, and wondering whether she created a monster or has any talent of her own. Her transformation into the vain and ungrateful Broadway star Ginger Delmarco is a joy to watch.

Review: RUTHLESS at New Conservatory Theatre Center
Jacqueline De Muro is Lita Encore

Paley and Laird’s score is delightful and plays on the themes of generational talent corrupted by the desire for fame and fortune. Kalita opens the show with “Tina’s Mother,” Lovgren has a scene-chewing number “Teaching Third Grade,” De Muro sings about hating musical theatre in “I Hate Musicals” and Tina is adorable singing “The Pippi Song.” This show is firing on all cylinders, all the elements combining into an enjoyable, laugh-out-loud parody.

Ruthless continues through January 7th. For more information, please visit the link below or call the box office at 415-861-8972.

Photo Credit: Lois Tema




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