Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Very Joan Crawford Christmas - Triangle Productions!, Portland, Oregon


". . . a bumpy night"
 
This show runs through December 23rd.  It was written by Jeff Church and Ron Megee.  The show is directed by Angela McKennie and produced and designed by Don Horn (co-founder of the company).  The theatre is located at 18th & Sandy.  Go to www.tripro.org for production information and/or call 503-239-5919 for tickets.

This event takes place in the being of the film diva and icon, Joan Crawford (Kam Sisco), later in life.  It happens during a very low spot in her career, before Trog but after Johnny Guitar.  Other low points for her during this era were The Caretakers and a Serling Night Gallery segment.  She had become a parody of herself.  And “therein lies the rub.”  Can  one write a parody of a parodoy?

The entire action of the play takes place in the semblance of Ms. Crawford’s apartment.  It is the night of a Christmas party she is giving.  She runs rough-shod over her two servants, Mamacita (Sarah Dresser) and Carl (James Sharinghousen).  It soon becomes obvious there is no love lost between them.  Her affections go entirely (except for her dog, Princess, played by Francesca Heine) toward herself and her own comfort.

She talks freely about her life for the “camera,” while her underlings wait on her hand and foot.  She indulges in Pepsi & vodka, her little Morkie, mayo-mask facial treatments, and revels in telling stories about her hated rival, Bette Davis.  What she hates is anybody that doesn’t treat her like the star she thinks she is and, oh yes, wire coat hangers (and “therein lies a tale”).

The design, direction and, especially the acting, are first-rate.  Mr. Sisco as Crawford is outrageous (that’s a good thing in this case).  My compliments to whoever did the make-up, as it seems frighteningly exact at times.  And any man that can walk in high heels gets my admiration.  His impersonation is spot on.

Mr. Sharinghousen as the belittled and berated Carl is wonderful.  The highlights of his performance were his rendition of the early Judy Garland song, Dear Mr. Gable and his hilarious portrayal of Trog.  Earlier he had directed Dracula at OTC and performed in Avenue Q at Triangle, both fine efforts, too.  Ms. Dresser as Mamacita, the German maid and, especially, Ms. Davis, in dream-like scenes from Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? is also  a delight.  Her Bette Davis impression is equally as good as Mr. Sisco’s Crawford.

The lighting, by Jeff Woods and set design, by Mr. Horn, were also impressive, as was the choice of music and, as mentioned, the make-up.  And Ms. McKennie’s direction of this eccentric production is right up her alley, having  fostered other productions of Gillian:  The  Musical! and it’s sequel, as well as having performed the title character in Auntie Mame.  I’m sure the cast owes much to her inspirations.

So why the “bumpy night” title for this review?  It’s the script that doesn’t fully work.  It seems divided into three parts. The first part (mediocre) seems to be just a mish-mash of one-liners.  The middle part (rather good) is a take-off on “…Baby Jane.”  And the final section (a terrific twist—no, I won’t be a spoiler and give away the surprise ending) is excellent.

So does the end justify the means?  Sort of.  Do the mixed genres (comedy, parody, fantasy, drama, et. al.) mesh together?  Not really.  Crawford became a parody unto herself in later years.  So writing a parody of a character that is already a parody doesn’t work.  It’s like  trying to drive in a tack with a sledgehammer. 

This is not to say it’s not worth seeing.  It is.  But the actors, as good as they are, are working mightily to overcome a flawed script.  You should see it and make up your own  mind.  If you do, please tell them Dennis sent you.