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Theater Review - I dismember Mama

Die, Mommy, Die! at Dad's Garage

A drag king rules the queendom of Die, Mommy, Die! at Dad's Garage. Actor/playwright Charles Busch built the 1999 stage comedy around his own cross-dressing performance as Angela Arden, a beloved but washed-up singer patterned after one of those infamously overplayed roles by Bette Davis or Joan Crawford at their least restrained.

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In the Dad's Garage production, directed by Kate Warner, Anne Towns presents an uproarious comic creation as Angela's husband Sol Sussman, a porcine movie producer and embodiment of male cruelty and indolence. When Towns unbuttons her pants and hunkers down in an easy chair like Joe Six-Packs everywhere, the humor of Die, Mommy, Die! finds an element of surprise that the entertaining but overly familiar material sorely lacks.

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That is no rap on Doyle Reynolds, who plays Angela and knows precisely how to carry himself in a turban, tennis outfit, or drunken tantrum with the presence to suit Beverly Hills royalty. Set at the dawn of the peacenik era of 1967, Die, Mommy, Die! turns the Sussmans' mansion into a hotbed of Hollywood Babylon-style intrigue. Despite the forbidden love affairs and poisoned suppositories, Reynolds plays Angela in an unexpectedly low key for the first act. Perhaps he and Warner realize that movie icons like Crawford usually built up a good head of steam in their films before launching into their major, memorable meltdowns. Reynolds sinks his teeth into the second act, which features plenty of crisp bitchiness and an intentionally zany acid trip that resembles a '60s movie's idea of an LSD freak-out more than the real thing.

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As Angela's children, Alison Hastings and a hilariously tormented Steve Emanuelson inject some juicy plotlines worthy of Greek tragedy, but Die, Mommy, Die! — despite some big laughs and nasty fun — feels inessential. You can value the old movies at its source as either high camp or misunderstood cinematic art, but Busch's brand of satire probably felt more fresh a couple of decades ago. Dad's Garage excels at finding and lampooning the clichés of a new generation, but maybe our modern-day divas and potential drag figures have become self-satirizing. Whitney Houston, say, presents such a shocking deconstruction of her own celebrity on "Being Bobby Brown" that a drag show version of her seems beside the point.

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Die, Mommy, Die! Dad's Garage Theatre, 280 Elizabeth St. Through July 1. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m. $9-$23. 404-523-3141. www.dadsgarage.com.