REVIEW: Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer

  
  

The Queer Meaning of Christmas: Always Be Yourself

  
  

Rudolph finale by David as Joan

  
Hell in a Handbag Productions presents
   
Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer
   
Book/Lyrics by David Cerda 
Music by
David Cerda w/ Scott Lamberty
Directed by
Derek Czaplewski
at Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark (map)
through Jan 1  |  tickets: $15-$20   |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Hell In a Handbag Productions have run their queerlicious holiday spoof, Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer for 13 years, yet it’s Christmas theme could not be more current or relevant than if it were written yesterday. Directed by Derek Czaplewski, this Santa Claus (Michael Hampton) is as Scrooge as they come, running the North Pole like a sweatshop. His terrorized elf population scrambles for job security since he’s outsourced most of the toy manufacturing to India. To generate extra income, Santa cynically develops a series of reality TV Mrs. Claus loses her balance. by David as Joanshows for NPN (North Pole Network). Sam the Snowman (Christopher Carpenter) lays out the whole scene with casual and realistic world-weariness, just right for this particular recessionary season.

Into this milieu, Jane (Danni Smith) and Tom Donner (Chad) give birth to Rudolph (Alex Grelle), a sweet little reindeer with an instinctual love for feminine attire. Fresh from the womb, Rudolph can already spot Chanel and Prada on other women and lusts in his heart to wear them himself. But mom and dad fear gender non-conformity just won’t go over well in the gossipy and economically strapped environs of Christmastown. So, they force Rudolph into overalls and trot him out to the reindeer games to put a little butch into his act.

The big butch of the reindeer games, Coach Comet (David Besky), uses his position to put the moves on his young reindeer charges. But, like any classic closet case, he – like everyone else – rejects Rudolph when his unstoppable femme side emerges. While reviling base hypocrisy is de rigueur element for LGBTQ comedy, Hell in a Handbag’s spry and professional cast keeps to the situation fresh, the jokes well-timed and humanely on message. David Cerda’s humorous script holds up fabulously well; it helps that the original Christmas cartoon is also about being yourself, no matter what societal pressures deny who and what you are. Cerda and crew boost the original cartoon with a ton of salacious queer fun and Brigitte Ditmars’ choreography makes the most of a tight stage at Mary’s Attic.

     
Trailer Trash Barbie by David as Joan Meet Coach Comet by David as Joan
The Dragbeast! The Abominable Dragbeast (David Cerda, center) massacre's a Lady Gag_0007 North Pole Smackdown by David as Joan

Rudolph loses the town’s support but gains a reindeer girlfriend, Clarice (Jennifer Shine), who regales the audience with how HOT his red hose make her. Then there’s Rudolph’s ally Herbie, the elf who wants to be a dentist, who Dan Hickey executes with nostalgic and dorky perfection. Once this pair make it to the Island of Misfit Toys, the audience not only gets to revel in Chad’s exact portrayal of Charlie-in-the-Box, but also the Half-Naked Cowboy (Chad Ramsey), Trailer Trash Barbie (Terry McCarthy) and the Choo-Choo Train (Barbara Figgins) with square wheels.

That Cerda, as the Abominable Drag Beast, tries her grab at fame in a Gaga-esque meat dress, while Ed Jones goes beyond the beyond as Santa’s drunken wife, puts the cherry and nuts on top of Hell in a Handbag’s confection. It’s so bad it’s good for you. But most of all, for all its celebration of pervy practices, Rudolph, the Red-Hosed Reindeer restores a little innocent sweetness to a holiday made hard, jaded and meaningless by rampant commercialism. Always be yourself—that’s the best Christmas message I’ve heard in a long time and something meant to last the whole year round.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
   
   

Christmastown! by David as Joan

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REVIEW: Rip Nelson Halloween Spooktacular (Hell-Handbag)

 

A Comic’s Comeback – Wishful Thinking on a Roll

 

 The Rip Nelson Halloween Spooktacular- Production photo #8 by David as Joan

   
 Hell in a Handbag Productions presents
 
The Rip Nelson Halloween Spooktacular
   
Written by David Cerda
Directed by
Cheryl Snodgrass
At
Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark (map)
through Nov 6  |  tickets: $10-$17  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Self-destruction, it seems, is the quickest way to create a comeback. In this case it’s as if a 747 pulls out of a talespin just about 100 feet before crashing into the runway. Author/producer David Cerda’s latest confection for his Hell in a Handbag zanies is the perfect vehicle for Ed Jones to do his wicked imitation of Paul Lynde, a basket case in free fall. Except that for legal reasons Jones’ on-the-skids comic who craves a second chance in show biz is now called Rip Nelson (R.I.P.—get it?) who’s hosting a 1970 live taping of a CBS variety show, a Halloween “spooktacular” that he desperately hopes will stop his slide into the bottle. When he gets in trouble, he Ed Jones as Rip Nelson in the The Rip Nelson Halloween Spooktacular - Hell in a Handbag - Mary's Attic reverts to his tag line, “Wooga, wooga!,” a joke that becomes more pathetic as Rip tears himself up. But never fear—Rip is blindly hurtling toward happiness!

Unctuously neurotic (with classic Lynde-like dithering), Jones’ sad-sack Rip amounts to a one-man disaster area. Mired in a self-pity that morphs into toxic insecurity, he hits the bottle and insults his faithful dresser (Barbara Figgins channeling Thelma Ritter). We get, of course, a ton of bitchy byplay in the dressing room, catty wisecracks that feel as familiar as a funhouse mirror. Rip morosely calls his show a “celebrity cemetery where has-beens go to die.”

Somehow addled Rip manages to throw himself into this vaudevillian variety show where the guests interact like tornadoes spawned from a hurricane. These include, of course, Cerda’s patented parody of Joan Crawford who, with Rip, laments ungrateful Christine in the jaunty duet “Kids” from “Bye Bye Birdie.” By now Cerda’s Crawford has become the default drive for the celluloid monster in fetid flamboyance; she’s easily the scariest think in the Spooktacular. But Joan gets plenty of grotesque competition from Missy Aguilar’s strait-laced Kate Smith. This blowsy belter performs a clever duet with Red Genson’s geeky Bob Dylan that perfectly folds the latter’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” into the former’s “God Bless America.”

Imitations that sometimes can pass for impersonations, these usual suspects from the disco decade include Brigitte Ditmars’ hilariously peppy Ann Miller (who hoofs up a storm to “Spooky” complete with phony tap dancing), BC Kalz as an embarrassingly off-rhythm and tone deaf Brooke Shields ruining David Bowie’s “Scary Monsters,” and Michael Hampton’s no-nonsense Bea Arthur (who deadpans “Monster Mash” with an equally dour Dylan). Aaron Lawson adds spice as Donny Osmond, squeaky clean as he demurely declares himself “homosexual catnip”. (This is 40 years ago, mind you.)

Elizabeth Lesinski, as a chatty Charo, makes you realize what killed vaudeville as she launches into the conga-dancing finale “Hootchie Cootchie Halloween,” a deliberately daffy production number that features Rip as Carmen Miranda on steroids. Completing the encourage are Patricia Austin’s adequately brief cameo as Phyllis Diller, Andrew Swan as insolent Brady brat Susan Olsen, and Alex Grelle’s bittersweet Shelley Duvall, a riot as she becomes the butt of everybody’s insults because she’s ugly and offers absolutely no consolation for her father’s failure to appear.

The Rip Nelson Halloween Spooktacular- Production photo #4 by David as Joan The Rip Nelson Halloween Spooktacular- Production photo #6 by David as Joan
The Rip Nelson Halloween Spooktacular- Production photo #10 by David as Joan The Rip Nelson Halloween Spooktacular- Production photo #1 by David as Joan

When it turns out that Rip’s mad scene is the result of Quaaludes that he accidentally drank when he stole Donny Osmond’s glass of orange juice, the loser suddenly rallies and discovers he’s not washed up after all. That of course is just when he’s given a new chance, a CBS comedy with Don Knotts. (This is a show that really believes you can have your cake and eat it too—mock Rip and then care about his comeback.)

It all makes for an exhausting 60 minutes full of what will seem to younger audience members esoteric to arcane cultural references from two generations ago. Despite its brevity, Cheryl Snodgrass’ staging often feels jerky: The dressing room scenes repeatedly drop the energy. (It might be better to play this as a continuous TV show with appropriately stupid commercials inserted during the breaks.)

Kudos to Kalz’ self-caricaturing wigs and to Brian McKnight’s sound design which delivers the variety show’s essential laugh track. But it was all but drowned out by a tipsy Andersonville audience who offered their own clap-happy ovations: Their kindness to these “strangers” amounted to shining generosity. But then everybody loves a loser…

   
   
Rating: ★★
   
   

The Rip Nelson Halloween Spooktacular-Production photo #2 by David as Joan

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REVIEW: Lady X (Hell in a Handbag Productions)

This ‘Lady’ is the cat’s meow!

 

Lady X Production photo #7 by David as Joan

 
Hell in a Handbag Productions presents
 
Lady X
 
Written by David Cerda
Directed by
Derek Czaplewski
at
Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark (map)
through June 19th  |  tickets: $15-$20  |  more info

reviewed by Katy Walsh 

‘These are laugh lines.’ ‘Must have been one hell of a joke!’ Hell in a Handbag Productions presents Lady X, a world premiere spoof on melodrama films from the 1930’s and 40’s. It’s like this, sister! Lady X Publicity Photo #1 by David as JoanA bunch of dames are hoofers looking for a pushover to be the darb for a swill of gin or a night of whoopee. The new big cheese  is a woman. And she is one tough broad sizing up their gams to turn the joint into the cat’s meow. But see, this hard boiled doll ain’t on the level and is giving everybody the heebie-jeebies. A stoolie gets bumped off. A tough cookie pinched. A flim-flam floozy takes it on the kisser. Horsefeathers! Lady X celebrates the zinger genre with a campy salute to Bette Davis’ lines.

After three years of comical reruns, David Cerda puts out an original Hell in a Handbag production. Cerda is the triple threat as producer, co-author and star in Lady X. Along with director Derek Czaplewski, Cheryl Snodgrass and Adrienne Smith, Cerda has brilliantly concocted a hilarious parody on Bette Davis’ movie, “Marked Woman.” The dialogue is a riotous string of zingers. Under Czaplewski’s influence, the banter is rapid-fire deadpan brilliance. Leading the impudent charge, Annie Gloyn (Mary Dwight) is dramedy heightened. Cerda says, ‘You’re a smart girl. What’s the capital of Montana?’ Gloyn responds with, ‘It’s Helena and the state bird is Western Meadowlark.’ Gloyn escalates the dramatic cadence to explode the comedic potential. Elizabeth Lesinski (Emmy Lou Higgins) is hysterical as the dim-witted dame in the gaggle of gals. Libby Lane (Gabby Marvin) is a snorting Judy Garland incarnate. Every time Handbag’s Ed Jones (Estelle Porter) steps on stage in a dress the laugh track goes off in my head. This time in a peach flowing ball gown and munching on nachos, Jones defines funny. As always, Cerda (Scarlet Fontanelli) is delicious as a diabolical ‘bitch in heels.’

Lady X 109 by David as Joan Lady X Production Photo #9 by David as Joan Lady X Production photo #3 by David as Joan
Lady X production photo #6 by David as Joan Lady X Production photo #8 by David as Joan

‘Clothes are the sugar that make the flies come down.’ Costume designer John Nasca has put together some sweet numbers. The task can’t be easy for Nasca with Jones and Cerda hitting the 6 foot mark. Nasca is up to the task and adorns the women AND men in dresses that would be the envy of Today’s hooker. The wigs (Robert Hilliard) top off the 40’s look with platinum blonde oomph. Lady X is a flashback to the days of elegantly dressed whores with coiffed hair. A time in movie history where the leading lady was brazen with one liners. ‘If I thought this was going to be a trip down memory lane, I’d brought my scrapbook.’ Hell in a Handbag Production takes the nostalgia, adds the humor, shakes it like a bad girl and serves it up like an Atlantic Hot Pocket. Be warned: laugh lines are a side affect! Applesauce!

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
 

Running Time: 105 minutes includes a fifteen minute intermission


Lady X Cast/Characters

Libby Lane (Gabby Marvin), Ed Jones (Estelle Porter), Elizabeth Lesinski (Emmy Lou Higgins), Annie Gloyn (Mary Dwight), Chad (Val, Surprise Witness, Casey), David Cerda (Scarlett Fontanelli), Michael Hampton (Ape), Michael S. Miller (Ralph Crawford, Radio Announcer)Joanna P. Lind (Betty Dwight), Megan Keach (Frank Graham), David Besky (Sheldon, Crandall, Louis, Man #1, Judge)

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REVIEW: Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer

Definitely not your father’s Rudolph

From left- Yukon Cornelia meets runaways Rudolph and Herbie (in Hell in a Handbag's Ruolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer. Photo credit- Rick Aguilar

Hell in a Handbag Productions presents:

Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer

 

Book and Lyrics by David Cerda
Music by David Cerda with Scott Lamberty
Directed by
Derek Czaplewski
At
Mary’s Attic (5400 N. Clark Street) thru January 2nd (ticket info)

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

From left- Rudolph, Yukon, and Herbiesee the Island of Misfit Toys in the distance in Hell in a Handbag's Ruolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer.Photo by Rick Aguilar A red panty-wearing reindeer, a boozy hag Mrs. Claus, and an elf with dental aspirations: two of these three character traits weren’t apparent in the traditional holiday classic. Hell in a Handbag Productions presents Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer, a parody on the children’s television show “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” The campy story tells the struggles of Rudolph (Alex Grelle), a transvestite reindeer born to wear Chanel silk in a J.C. Penney overalls world. In its 12th year, David Cerda has updated his Christmas town misfits’ story with topical jokes about Michael Jackson, the Catholic Church and healthcare. Cerda has unwrapped his imagination to create back stories for the residents of Christmas Town: a pedophile reindeer coach, a tyrant money-hungry Santa, enslaved go-go dancing elves, and a cosmetic surgery drag-queen victim as the snow beast. Not quite the hot-cocoa-by-the-fireplace-on-a-snowy-evening, this Rudolph is more like tequila shots at the bar on a bitter cold night.

In any Hell in a Handbag production, Ed Jones transforms his small supporting role into huge laughs. As a drunken Mrs. Claus, Jones’ facial expressions are hysterical. Joined by Rudolph, Herbie (Chris Walsh), and Clarice (Jennifer Shine), Jones’ quartet belts out the catchy tune “Christmas Makes Me Bitter.” It’s the perfect melody for holiday commercialism burn-outs. The witty combination of the television show’s familiar moments mixed with the dark and disturbing create a warped alternative to the “It’s a Wonderful Life” crowd. Walsh (no relation) nails Herbie the elf in pitch and robotic movement. From the moment she steps on the stage, Lori Lee (Yukon Cornelia) becomes a hilarious version of the simpleton prospector. Her traveling destination song “I Don’t Know” is an amusing rendition of an Abbott-Costello ‘who’s on first’.

From left- Santa Claus, loses patience with flamboyant Rudolph as Score the Elf looks on in horror in Hell in a Handbag's Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer. Photo by Rick Aguilar The greedy capitalist, Santa Claus, threatens one of his elves ( to work faster or suffer the consequences in Hell in a Handbag Productions 'Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer' at Mary's Attic. Photo by Rick Aguilar-

Over the last several years, I’ve made three trips to Cerda’s Christmas Town. Like Christmas cookies, I like to sample all of them but I have my favorites. This production comes in third with some awkward pauses. It’s unclear if it’s new material or new actors mixing with veterans. Regardless, Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer is still a great escape from songs like “I’ll Have a Blue Christmas Without You” for the more realistic sentiment “They’ll Hate You If You’re Different.” The 2009 version may not be my favorite but it’s still a tasty holiday treat.

 

Rating: ★★★

 
Herbie, the 'not gay enough ' elf that has dreams of dentistry in Hell in a Handbag Production's Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer opening Dec. 5 at Mary's Attic. Photo by Rick Aguilar Score, the not so bright elf in Hell in a Handbag's Rudolph The Red-Hosed Reindeer. Photo by Rick Augilar

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Show openings/closings this week

show openings

12 Ophelias Trap Door Theatre

Animal Crackers Goodman Theatre

An Apology for the Course and Outcome of Certain Events Delivered by Dr. John Faustus on this His Final Evening Theater Oobleck

Fear The Neo Futurists

Lights Out Alma Annoyance Theatre

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Court Theatre

The Marvelous Wonderettes Northlight Theatre

Pump Boys and Dinettes Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

Rent Big Noise Theatre

Splatter Theater Annoyance Theatre

St. Crispin’s Day Strawdog Theatre

UFC: Under Forced Closure Annoyance Theatre

Yeast Nation (The Triumph of Life) American Theater Company

 

show closings

 

Bill W. and Dr. Bob EverGreen Theatre Ensemble

The Boys Next Door Jedlicka Performing Arts Center 

Bruschetta: An Evening of Short Plays Appetite Theatre

Illocal Comedy Corn Productions

Jackie: An American Life Theatre-Hikes

Poiseidon! An Upside-Down Musical Hell in a Handbag Productions

Rollin’ Outta Here NakedGorilla Tango Theatre

The Ruby Sunrise The Gift Theatre

Super Happy Fun Show Corn Productions 

Tuesdays with Morrie Independent Stars

TV Re-Runs Cornservatory

Under Milk Wood Caffeine Theatre

 

This openings/closings list courtesy of League of Chicago Theatres

Chicago shows currently Jeff-Recommended

jeff-awards-header

Equity Wing:
Learn more about the Equity Wing

All My Sons
TimeLine Theatre Company
» our review here

Cabaret
Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre
» our review here

High Fidelity
Route 66 Theatre Company

Million Dollar Quartet
Apollo Theater Chicago
» our review here

Mistakes Were Made
A Red Orchid Theatre

Studs Terkel’s Not Working
The Second City e.t.c.

The Fantasticks
Porchlight Music Theatre Chicago

The History Boys
TimeLine Theatre Company

The Light in the Piazza
Marriott Theatre

 

Non-Equity Wing:
Learn more about the Non-Equity Wing

Graceland
Profiles Theatre
» our review here

POSEIDON! An Upside Down Musical
Hell in a Handbag Productions

The Night Season
Premiere Theatre and Perf. i/a/w/ Vitalist Theatre

The Taming of the Shrew
Theo Ubique Theatre Company i/a/w Michael James
» our review here

Under Milk Wood
Caffeine Theatre
» our review here