I’m no friend of Dorothy or brother of Judy or whatever the hell – I see Judy Garland more as a pill-popping charwoman than someone whose complete emotional and substance-drenched breakdown needs to be iconified, codified and membranced. But you know me: I have little pity for addicts. Sure she was talented – but isn’t it harder to be succesful and not have a chemical crutch?
But that didn’t stop me from enjoying Hell in a Handbag’s lastest production of Judy’s Scary Little Christmas.
Cut to 1959 where Garland stumbles out on live television for a holiday special featuring many of her favorite entertainers including Bing Crosby, Liberace, Ethel Merman, Lillian Hellman and even Joan Crawford. And I have to say that I have now seen David Cerda play Joan Crawford three times – twice this year! I’m not a huge Joan-head (after being traumatized by the beatings-and-cleanings scene of Mommie Dearest – that was the year we had cable TV and Heather and I memorized Poltergeist) but Cerda grabbed the usual laughs with his portrayal of the sagging starlet (complete with a menacing fist raised at the TV camera for her kiddies back home).
My darling Brigitte (who I trained with in acting school and have know now for 12 years – holy crap) played tortured woman of letters Lillian Hellman with complete fabulosity. I always love seeing her onstage and Ron and I squeezed hands in excitement as Hellman waxed poetic on socialism and other niceities that got her career ruined during the Red Scare). She even did a duet with up-and-coming Vice President Richard Milhouse Nixon (Michael S. Miller) as well. I will always love seeing Brigitte onstage simply because she is such a wonderful performer and she is just so damned fantastic in everything. I almost threw my panties at her.
The play ambles with good holiday cheer and Jennifer Connelly does a fantastic impression as Judy (I remember her singing Judy-songs during the Poseidon musical cabaret evenings at Gentry) and her gaggle of chorus boys do their best to frame Judy in the best tableau possible (courtesy of Brigitte who also did the choreography).
A surprise guest played by Handbag favorite Ed Jones throws Judy a curve and gives us the expected Christmas-meaning chatharsis that every holiday play must provide.
Tim Howard directed great in a space that I’ve produced in before – Strawdog Theatre. It is a small space with massive pillars that make everything played one of two angles to the audience seating. His husband (the other Tim) provided the scene design.
I bet this was a tough play because the second half of the second act is a long goodbye. And long goodbyes can be interminable (why I always skip the last half hour of Return of the King). It is also why most Shakespeare plays should be ended as quickly as they can after the last major character’s death.
Derek Czaplewski did great as Bing Crosby, mimicking the liquor-smooth baritone of Mr. White Christmas. Brannen Daugherty stole moment after moment as a fame-whoring Liberace always mugging for the camera and making oh-so-slightly inappropriate jokes (with a horny sailor waiting in the wings for a midnight ‘dinner with mother). Trista Smith (last seen as Carrie White’s butched-up gym teacher) went full-on-belt as Ethel Merman (though her wig seemed more Phyllis Diller to me).
Ron and I had attempted the show on Thursday – even trudged through the snow to get there – only to find the show had been cancelled. Our walk last night was much easier due to plowing and we ended up having dinner at Ecce on Thursday (where I had two panic attacks due to claustrophobic seating conditions) and then last night we ordered Ping Pong on the way out of the theatre which was ready by the time we walked by the restaurant.
One thing that is weird about the show is I had a hard time hearing some of the actors. There was an air handler on for much of the first act (I think maybe a cooling system for the light dimmer?). It is strange to be in a space that small and not hear every single word. But I’ve alway been a bastard for that anyway.