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: The….Curse of Dragula (Even and Odd Theatricals)

Be who you are. Love what you do.

 

Ed Jones as Dragula2

 
Even and Odd Theatricals present
 
The Bloody Fabulous Curse of Dragula
 
by Duane Scott Cerny
directed by Mark Contorno
at Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark (map)
through April 23rd (more info | tickets)

Reviewed by Aggie Hewitt

At a drag show, one expects low budget, gritty in your face comedy and music. At The Bloody Fabulous Curse of Dragula, the low budget aspect is more church basement than back alley, and the jokes are traditional drag queen fare: raunchy as all get up and a throwback to vaudevillian one liners ("I’m still big," laments Dragula, "it’s the necklines that got small") and amazingly campy puns ("Does the Countess receive royalty?" "No, but she is expecting a check."). While Countess Dragula is an undead creature of the night who resides in a castle atop a mountain in Transylvania, this wacky spoof is more RuPaul than Rue Morgue. Dragula is equal parts a send up of Dracula and Sunset Boulevard. The Gloria Swanson-esque Countess swoons around her castle in a black jumper, costume jewelry, and a black turban,  remembering her glory days, bedding all the great actors of the silent Dragula and Max 1screen. She lives with her man servant/husband, a combination of Dracula’s Renfield and Sunset’s Max Von Mayerling, Max Von Tampon (Michael Miller).  Mr. Miller’s performance is a highlight of the night, with his unwavering and stoic commitment. Dragula herself is played by uber-muggy Ed Jones, and is confident with a very sweet side. Although his performance is inconsistant, Mr. Jones radiates the underlying joy of Dragula, a take it or leave it farce that requests of it’s audience only that they have fun. 

We meet the Countess as a washed up, depressed, attention and money starved vampire diva. Her luck changes one day when a handsome screenwriter Joe Studlione (David Besky) stumbles upon her castle while scouting locations (just go with it). Dragula sees her second chance at fame, and pays him to stay with her on the mountain top and edit her comeback screenplay. But, as in life, nothing good can last, and before she knows it, Dragula’s Deliverence-like extended family has barged into her life, hoping that she will open her heart and her pocketbook to them.  The crazy plot is complimented by nonstop punny, dirty, hit-or-miss jokes. Although avid drag fans will want more music (there is one lonely song in Dragula) playwright Duane Scott Cerny has made a point to pen a play starring a drag queen, not a just a drag show.

Countess Dragula’s castle is adorned with pictures of herself as a young movie star, as well as autographed photos of her celebrity friends (a signed head shot of Anderson Cooper reads "Thank you, Dragula. Thanks to you I can now take a 360." Whatever that means, it’s funny). A truly fabulous antique-looking velvet loveseat dresses the set, as does a small table, a few chairs and a long line of TV-dinner trays. In the limited (but versatile) space provided by Mary’s Attic, there’s not room for much more. Director Mark Contorno no frills staging gets the point across without major innovation (don’t forget, this show is in a bar).

Michael Miller plays Max with Dragula Ed Jones as Dragula

Dragula is not going to win any Jeff Awards. It probably wouldn’t even win RuPaul’s Drag Race. But it doesn’t need those petty things to have a good time. The Bloody Fabulous Case of Dragula encompases the absolute best aspect of drag performance: be who you are, and love what you do. Luckily for us, this cheerful cast does just that. 

 
Rating: ★★★
 

 

Starring Ed Jones & Michael Miller, with David Besky, Craig Conover, Dan Hickey & Lori Lee.  Written by Duane Scott Cerny. Directed by Mark Contorno

Previews begin March 18th thru 20th. Opens Thursday, March 25th thru April 23rd. All shows @ 7:30 pm – at Mary’s Attic Theatre, 5400 N. Clark, Chicago 1-773-784-6969
www.hamburgermaryschicago.com/attic.php

Tickets: $15.00 & $20.00. Call 1-800-838-3006 or www.BrownPaperTickets.com/event/96176

More extensions: Bailiwick and Noble Fool

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“Show Us Your Love” extended through the end of March

Bailiwick Chicago’s cabaret hit has been extended through the end of this month – Sunday, March 28th, to be exact.  You can catch Show Us Your Love, at Mary’s Attic, every Sunday evening at 7:30pm.  For tickets and more information, go to www.BailiwickChicago.com


overtavern
Noble Fool Theatricals has extended their popular family comedy Over the Tavern through April 3rd (our review  ★★½).  Directed by John Gawlik at the Pheasant Run Resort Mainstage Theater (4051 E. Main, St. Charles) Over The Tavern was originally scheduled to close on March 28, 2010, but now has added two additional performances  – April 2nd and 3rd.  For tickets or more information, visit www.noblefool.org or call the box-office at 630-584-6342.

The cast for Over the Tavern includes Alex Adams, Scott Cummins, Gabriel
Harder, Renee Matthews, Stacy Stoltz, Katrina Syrris and Dan Velisek.

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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Review: “Carpenter’s Halloween” at Mary’s Attic

Definitely a treat!

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The Scooty & Jojo Show presents:

Carpenters Halloween

created by Scott Bradley and Jonny Stax
directed by Scott Bradley
music-directed by Brent Moore
thru November 7th (buy tickets)

reviewed by Katy Walsh

carpenters-halloween-1

Light their way when the darkness surrounds them…

Is this the beginning narration of a story about a beast or a line from a 1970’s pop song? In Carpenter’s Halloween Scott Bradley and Jonny Stax re-imagine John Carpenter’s 1978 Halloween movie as a musical. The Scooty & Jojo Show’s production uses the lyrics of Karen and Richard Carpenter to tell the tale of Michael Myer’s psycho ward escape and killing-spree homecoming. The results? Carpenter’s Halloween is a hilarious slasher reproduction.

a kind of hush all over the world tonight”

Performed at Mary’s Attic, the show starts with and uses film footage projected on televisions to illustrate Michael Myer’s childhood transformation into psycho killer.  The multi-talented cast, cardboard cars, live band and puppets transport you back to the familiar cult classic. The fear factor is gone as the campy show pokes fun of the movie’s scary elements 30+ year ago that, in hindsight, seem ridiculous.

“We’ve only just begun….”

Some of the best moments are new lines on the familiar script; “he always looks like that. He’s a puppet.” And “would Karen Carpenter have a second bowl of popcorn?”  Leading the laughter is the stand out performance of Scott Bradley as Laurie Strode. Playing up the Laurie’s “Solitaire’s the only game in town loneliness,” Bradley hilariously mimics Jamie Lee Curtis’ memorable performance. One of many giggle-fests occurs when Lindsey (Ryan Guhde) and Tommy (Libby Lane) re-interpret the phrase “go upstairs and change your clothes.” Baby, baby, baby, aw baby I love Carpenter’s Halloween I really do!

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Examples of comments heard from audience members include – Steve:  Muppets meet Python; Tom: campy, funny, songy; Shawn: scream queen lives; Scott: song slash dance; Jen: well-delivered, witty, wicked; Paul: camp built well; and James: Karen would approve!

Rating: «««

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