Significant trimming and tweaking is needed to make Peter Lefcourt’s Hollywood-spoofing Drama Queens From Hell the comedy hit it aspires to be despite some occasional insider hilarity and several deliciously scene-stealing performances.
Lefcourt’s premise is simple if entirely improbable.
Somehow, inexplicably, B-grade Hollywood director Gerard Manville (Paul Galliano) has snagged the rights to a no-budget remake of the Billy Wilder classic Sunset Boulevard, and though logic might dictate that either Meryl, Glenn, or Judi would give their eye teeth to recreate Norma Desmond, the only three candidates being considered are 50something has-been (or never-was) Maxine Zabar (Christopher Callen), aging 1970s Blaxploitation starlet Felicia Brown (Dee Freeman), and pre-op transsexual Brianne neé Brian McCauley (Chad Borden).
If all this sounds like food for an extended gay-targeted skit, the kind you might expect to see downstairs at Casita Del Campo, you’re right.
Unfortunately, Drama Queens From Hell turns out to be a full-length two-acter performed on a cavernous stage whose empty space proves a metaphor for how much Lefcourt’s latest World Premiere needs to be cut down to size.
A clever tip of the hat to Sunset Boulevard’s dead-man-in-swimming-pool opening sequence introduces us to narrator Gerard, who’s been “literally fucked to death,” presumably by either Maxine, Felicia, or Brianne.
Flashbacks then reveal all three movie goddess wannabes to be vying for the same iconic role, and using Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to insure that they get seen for the part, no matter that Norma was neither black nor packing a penis in her pants. (One of Drama Queens From Hell’s big missteps is not giving Gerard a good enough reason to reject the age/race/gender-appropriate Maxine.)
Also along for the ride is Raphael (Andrew Diego), a “gay, Sephardic Jewish possibly Persian or Hispanic, maybe even Armenian, vegan” hired to be Gerard’s assistant. (Diego also gets drafted to to play German shop girl Hildegarde, purportedly because of Actors Equity’s “99-seat theater bullshit.”)
Hollywood insider references reveal playwright Lefcourt’s knowledge of Tinseltown (e.g., merely saying you have Meryl Streep attached to your project can attract a Michael Fassbender, and vice versa) as does Gerard’s take on a couple of pretentious acting teachers.
A hilarious Oscar acceptance speech spoof has Maxine saluting fellow nominees Glenn, Meryl, Helen, and Judi, and Felicia’s competition is just as inspired.
Even more outrageously funny are Felicia’s and Brianne’s auditions, their entirely inappropriate voices dubbed into actual Gloria Swanson/William Holden footage, though Maxine’s fizzles because her Norma sounds no different from Gloria’s.
As for playwright Lefcourt’s multiple pop culture references, though they will likely date faster than you can say “Meg Ryan once had a career,” they do provide more than a few laughs.
Unfortunately, Drama Queens From Hell runs about half-an-hour too long, its mostly superfluous narration slowing the pace every time Gerard shows up to tell his tale, and several less-than-uproarious scenes could also stand to be deleted.
Under Terri Hanauer’s direction, the fabulous Borden and the dy-no-mite Freeman do the evening’s most memorable work, with an underused Diego coming in a close second for his deliciously catty Raphael and delicately Teutonic Hildegarde.
Callen plays Maxine with panache, but the role is too close to Swanson’s in age and manner to work. (A Paris Hilton/Miley Cyrus type would have given Felicia and Brianne an equally outrageously miscast competitor.)
Galliano could not make for a more handsome Gerard, and Rick Podell has his humorous moments as “bottom-feeding agent” Artie Paramecium.
Scenic designer Pete Hickok’s overly expansive set benefits from Donny Jackson’s ingenious lighting design, Yee Eun Nam’s Sunset Boulevard projections, and Dino Herrmann’s clever sound design. Best of all are Mylette Nora’s bevy of glamorous gowns. (Choreographer Tracy Silver deserves high marks for a couple of pizzazzy dance sequences.)
Drama Queens From Hell is produced by Racquel Lehrman of Theatre Planners. Victoria Watson of Theatre Planners is associate producer. Rita Cofield is stage manager and Ashley Clark is assistant stage manager.
Casting is by Michael Donovan, CSA. Richie Ferris is casting associate. Richard Sabine plays Artie on September 2 and 4.
Though Drama Queens From Hell does have its moments, when the only way a writer can come up with to end his play is an out-of-the-blue group-sing one of Barbra’s Greatest Hits, it’s clear that changes need to be made to make Lefcourt’s latest comedy the campy laugh riot it wants to be.
Odyssey Theatre, 2055 South Sepulveda Boulevard, Los Angeles.
August 20, 2106
Photos: Ed Krieger