Silver screen goddess Angela Arden lives again in Celebration Theatre’s hilariously over-the-top revival of Die, Mommie, Die!, Charles Busch’s affectionately acidic tribute to the bevy of fading female icons who made their last defiant stand in 1960s La La Land.
Like her equally fabled Hollywood contemporaries Bette, Joan, Lana, and Susan, Angela (Drew Droege) has seen much better days than these, but a string of unfortunate flops (Song Of Marie Antoinette and TV’s The Angela Arden Hour among them) led first to summer-stock (Eliza in My Fair Lady, Peter in Peter Pan) and then an early retirement.
Fortunately for Angela, 1967 has begun with the promise of a New York solo show (in The Catskills, not The City), though not if her domineering movie mogul husband Sol Sussman (Pat Towne) has anything to say about it.
Not that things are going any better for Sol, money for his Biblical epic Abraham And Sarah having dried up “like a plate of blintzes in the Sahara,” and worse still, the mob is threatening to “bathe Sol in cement” if he doesn’t fork over 20 million dollars by Monday.
If only Angela could find comfort in her 21-year-old daughter, but the bouffant-haired, mini-skirted Edith (Julanne Chidi Hill) finds her mom’s current vibrato “as wide as Mister Ed’s asshole” and Mommie herself “a money-grubbing selfish bitch” and a “promiscuous slut.”
At the very least, Miss Arden’s teenage son Lance (Tom DeTrinis), who’s just been cast as Ado Annie in his college production of Oklahoma!, thinks Angela is “the coolest mom ever,” though sonny boy has troubles of his own, having recently been sent home as a result of a scandal involving the entire (male) math department and “being spun around nude on the Lazy Susan.”
Then there’s Angela’s 30something lover Tony Parker (Andrew Carter), once the star of TV’s Squad Car Thirteen but now best known for having “the biggest cock west of the San Andreas fault” and the reputation of “a highly-paid gigolo” who slipped into Angela’s life “as easily as Vermouth into a glass of gin, quickly and a bit too smooth.”
Finally, surrounding all of the above is the mysterious death of Angela’s sister Barbara, whose memory lingers on years later “like the smog over the canyon.”
If it’s not already clear, playwright Busch knows Golden (and Post-Golden) Age Hollywood like the back of Angela’s manicured hand, sneaking in lines that would do Misses Davis, Crawford, Turner, or Hayward proud. (“Oh, Edie, why must we be forever at each other’s throats?” “I’ll run upstairs and toss on my tennis togs.” “I’ve banished all my yesterdays.”)
All of this makes Die, Mommie, Die! a particular treat for those familiar with the era and genre.
Under Ryan Bergmann’s deliciously campy direction, performances may soar higher than heightened but they guarantee abundant laughter all the way up to a grand finale that would Norma Desmond proud.
The divine Droege has clearly done his Turner Classic Movies homework (as have his castmates), nailing Angela’s glamour, her ego, her panache, her self-doubts, and her speech peculiarities (gigyulo for gigalo, New York with a French r and a silent k, and a tendency to slur her s’s.)
Supporting performances are equally divine, from Carter’s sexy, package-packed Tony to DeTrinis’s fab-fem Lance to Hill’s curvy, incest-inclined Edith to Torrecilla’s finger-wagging hussy Bootsie to Towne’s Louis B. Mayer-meets-Harry Cohn Sol.
Production design is Grade-A groovy all the way—Pete Hickok’s elegant-kitchy Hollywood mansion, Allison Dillard’s built-from-scratch ‘60s garb (with special snaps to Angela’s one-of-a-kind frocks), Michael O’Hara’s spot-on period props, and above all Matthew Brian Denman’s psychedelicious lighting and Rebecca Kessin’s ‘60s-sational sound design, lending musical punch to frequent freeze-frames and thunder-clap whacks to equally frequent slaps.
Daniel Montgomery is assistant director. Megan Brister is production stage manager.
Die, Mommie, Die! is presented by Celebration Theatre and JohnMichael Beck and produced by Erinn Anova. Mark Giberson, Mat Hays, and Jay Marcus are associate producers.
Casting is by Jami Rudofsky. Chloe Fineman, Marc Forget, Michael Taylor Gray, Christopher Maikish, Nathan Mohebbi, and Tamika Simpkins are understudies (reviewed here).
No one spoofs Hollywood movie genres better than Charles Busch and no intimate theater company does more consistently topnotch work than Celebration Theater. Put them together and you’ve got a ticket to Angela Arden heaven.
Celebration Theatre at Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hollywood. Through April 9. Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00. Sundays at 2:00. Reservations: 323 957-1884
February 23, 2017
Photos: Matthew Brian Denman