BWW Review: BenDeLaCreme and ACTLab's BEWARE THE TERROR OF GAYLORD MANOR a Spooky, Kooky Cabaret
BenDeLaCreme is a drag queen with a knack for the holidays-she leads the fantastic annual "Homo for the Holidays" (coming this Christmas!) and memorably played a craggy old lady with a disembodied head for a daughter on "some TV show with RuPaul" (per the Playbill). This season, in collaboration with ACTLab, DeLa wrote and directed an orange-and-black variety show that errs on the treat side of the bargain. While not always spooky, "Beware the Terror of Gaylord Manor" is a Frankenstein's monster of camp, striptease, burlesque, comedy, multiple personalities, and other monsters.
"Beware the Terror of Gaylord Manor" takes place in a spooky, haunted mansion. BenDeLaCreme plays a naïve woman named Patricia "Patsy" Jejune, who assumed she could walk into a gothic mansion on a dark and stormy night, use the telephone, and then walk away unharmed. But it comes as no surprise when Patsy finds herself trapped for the night in Count Baron Von Gaylord's home, terrorized by ghouls at every corner.
Patsy looks to the other folks trapped in the home that evening, two paranormal "experts" Dr. Dudley Dottington (Mandy Price) and his wife, Leonora Dottington (Scott Shoemaker) a self-proclaimed clairvoyant. Unfortunately, they do not serve as comfort for poor Patsy, because Dudley has tremendously outdated concepts of science, and Leonora makes abundantly clear that she's attracted to Patsy. Dudley tries to debunk the paranormal activity within the house, often blaming the wind. Leo wants to sleep with Patsy. Count Baron Von Gaylord wants to prove to his mother that he can carry out the Gaylord legacy of making those who enter the manor disappear. Patsy just wants to survive the night. None of them know what they're doing.
Over and over Patsy narrowly survives encounters with the undead. These encounters come in the form of song and dance. Collectively, there are around ten dance numbers in the production, all pretty similar in caliber, length, and purpose. The first couple of times the dances are charming and play into the campiness of the production. Some dances are clever spins on classic ghouls: a bear of a werewolf and a sexy vamp. But others could feel slighter, like they were distractions for a costume change (but on the other hand what costumes they are!).
It feels like BenDeLaCreme held back writing themselves into the script-mostly she runs around in her six-inch heels screaming, occasionally talking to herself. Patsy is a complicated character: her backstory reveals layers of abuse by her family back home, and it manifests in a very grim way. This allows for BenDeLaCreme to be the star for a bit as they show off their acting abilities, but this queen takes a step back so that every member of the giant cast has their moment to show off their talents.
As Leonora, Scott Shoemaker is a saucy vamp with the voice and attitude of Ursula the Seawitch. Often and error and never in doubt, Mandy Price's matter-of-factness makes for an hysterical portrayal of Dr. Dudley Dottington. Major Scales' Count Baron Von Gaylord is spirited and eager, and plays a number of songs on the piano throughout the production (and sings!). BenDeLaCreme's Patsy is both convincingly wide-eyed and times, and demonic at others. BenDeLaCreme is a tremendously talented artist that leaves audience members wanting more.
It's a tremendously fun and adorable production. "Gaylord Manor" gives the public drag with a capitol "D": it's raunchy, sexy, and campy. The cabaret seating makes it crucially important for folks to get to the show early, because there is a chance that folks will get stuck adjusting their seats throughout the show just so they can try and peak around the pillars. The action takes place on two facing stages, so a table in the center will be prime real estate for audience members.
For this spooky, kooky cabaret, I give "Beware the Terror of Gaylord Manor" a charmed B+. Seriously, get there early!
"Beware the Terror of Gaylord Manor" performs at ACT Theatre through October 29, 2017. For tickets and information, visit them online at www.acttheatre.org.