Thoughts & Musings

2nd Story’s ‘Die, Mommie, Die!,’ high camp with laughs

The show is perfect summer fare.

by Channing Gray, Providence Journal
  • 20th July 201520/07/15
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As they like to say at 2nd Story Theatre, Charles Busch’s “Die, Mommie, Die!,” the theater’s latest offering, gives a whole new meaning to the term “summer camp.”

Busch, who’s a lover of 1960s films showcasing faded stars, has cooked up his own outrageous take on the genre, where the faded starlet is played by a drag queen and the wacky plot is full of unexpected twists and turns.

Poor Angela Arden, who had her own TV show in the 1950s with guests such as Sen. Joseph McCarthy, is now a washed up star in a loveless marriage with two bratty kids. Her film director husband, Sol Sussman, has troubles of his own. He hasn’t had a hit in a decade and is now up to his ears in dept to the mob.

Meanwhile, Sol discovers Angela is having an affair with Tony Parker, a tennis playing gigolo. To punish her, he cancels her credit cards and sabotages her chances at a comeback in a club in the Catskills.

But Angela sees a way out. She slips an arsenic-laced suppository to the ever constipated Sol, thinking with Sol out of the way life will be grand once again. But nothing in this zany play turns out the way you expect. And it’s not until her kids put a tab of acid in their mother’s coffee that the shocking truth becomes clear.

“Die, Mommie, Die!” is running in repertory through the summer with “I Hate Hamlet,” which is a much tamer show about a TV actor who reluctantly agrees to play Hamlet in the park, but ends up loving the experience after a little coaching from the ghost of John Barrymore.

But the Busch is pure camp. Female impersonator Payton St. James is wonderful as Angela, a sort of cross between Loretta Young and Joan Crawford just before the commitment papers were signed. The thing about St. James is he’s a big man, but looks so sexy and moves so well as he parades about in a closet full of gowns from costume designer Ron Cesario. (Busch wrote the part for a drag queen.)

But really, the whole cast is solid with some hysterical moments from Margaret Melozzi’s maid, Bootsy, who stashes flasks around the house and sings the praises of Richard Nixon.

F. William Oakes nails Sol. He’s loud, insensitive and domineering, all the things you might expect from a director who’s full of himself.

But Valerie Westgate often steals the show as daughter Edith, who has a big crush on daddy. Westgate could be a teenager, but it’s hard to say. She’s just this very odd, very goofy presence.

Patrick Mark Saunders, as Edith’s gay brother Lance, had some delicious moments, too, like when ends up on the couch with Wayne Kneeland’s Tony.

The show is perfect summer fare. It’s funny, frothy, and laced with just enough sex to keep things interesting.

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