It's been too many years since drag legend and playwright Charles Busch donned wigs and heels to treat New York to one of his smart and snappy campfests. While this new one is not quite in the same league as his best, it hardly matters: Busch is at the height of his powers as a performer.
photo: Carol Rosegg
Reviewed by Patrick Lee
Charles Busch is back on stage in a dress, and New York is a better place for it.
In Die Mommie Die!, his latest cross-dressed kitschfest which is set in the late ‘60’s and which lampoons Hollywood Gothics such as Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte, he’s faded screen and recording star Angela Arden, whose celebrated career has hit the skids. Stuck in a loveless living-hell marriage with a movie producer who sabotages her Catskills comeback gig, Angela plots a divorce-by-murder right under the noses of her wayward teenage kids, her vain and oily “tennis instructor” (read: gigolo), and her snooping housekeeper. It’s done winkingly, as always with Busch’s drag plays, in the crooked finger between teeth style. There’s just enough fresh dirtiness to give it a contemporary kick: the murder weapon, for instance, is a poisoned suppository.
As Busch makes his first entrance from the garden, saying "Pardon my appearance, I've been up to my elbows all afternoon in manure," his appearance is, of course, flawless. The elaborate orange wig, the gorgeous floral gown, the magazine-perfect makeup: Busch is once again playing a camped-out version of a woman who could only exist in the Hollywood melodramas of more than a handful of decades ago. His every lift of an eyebrow and cross of his legs in Die Mommie Die is campy bliss, even for those in the audience who don't know the sources of Busch's inspirations. As he’s off stage only long enough to quick-change into yet another frock, Busch has fashioned himself a nearly non-stop star vehicle and it’s a joy to take the ride with him.
It is, however, not always a smooth ride. While its goof on late ‘60’s melodramas is always pleasurable, and its slick visual design does a terrific job of conjuring up the needed cinematic effects, Die Mommie Die! is not in the same class as the best Busch spoofs (such as The Lady In Question or Red Scare on Sunset) which have tighter narratives. The play only seriously falters in its climactic scene, which leaves Busch alone on stage to deliver a lot of exposition. This production is further let down by a sometimes unruly supporting cast, who often venture too far over the top. (Kristine Neilsen is the worst offender: her campy mugging gets easy laughs, but the play would be better served if she was more of grounding presence: we don’t need Vicki Lawrence to wear a curtain rod, too.)
The main attraction is Charles Busch camping it up on stage, and here he's at the height of his powers as a performer. That alone makes Die Mommie Die! one of the funnest nights out in town right now.
New World Stages (340 W 50th Street)
Tickets (212-329-6200): $35.00 - $91.50
Performances: Tues-Fri @ 7:00 | Sat @ 7:00 & 10:00 | Sun @ 3:00 & 7:00
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