Hell in a Handbag's latest production of Charles Busch's homage to the B thriller films of the '60s, "Die! Mommie, Die!" was originally presented Off-Broadway. Bailiwick hosts the Midwestern premiere of this campy melodrama.
Noted for such plays as "The Tale of the Allergist's Wife," "Vampire Lesbians of Sodom" and "Psycho Beach Party," Busch not only wrote but usually starred in drag as the female leading lady in these gender-bending comedies. Here the role of washed-up pop singer Angela Arden is portrayed by David Cerda, and his interpretation is the main reason for seeing this play.
Cerda completely inhabits the theatrical persona of the diva, borrowing much from Faye Dunaway's bipolar portrayal of Joan Crawford in "Mommie Dearest." His heavily made-up, wide eyes and bright red, pouting lips almost take on a life of their own as Cerda—costumed in John Nasca's flowing lounge kaftan, inappropriately scarlet mourning dress and sexy tennis outfit—sashays and poses around the tiny Bailiwick studio stage. His exaggerated takes, self-effacing gestures and deep resonant voice command every scene. The most humorous moments come when Angela breaks the fourth wall, either talking directly to or staring out at the audience in moments of shock.
Beautiful Veronica Sheaffer as Edith Sussman, Angela's slutty but hateful daughter who loves her daddy just a bit too much, comes the closest to matching Cerda's performance. Sheaffer plays Edith's range of hammy histrionics with a vengeance. Zach Geoffroy's Lance Sussman, Angela's sexually confused rebellious son, also has his mean moments, as when he throws himself at Angela's lover, Tony Parker, or when he and his sister conspire to deviously expose Angela's true character. Suffice it to say, there are a number of twists and turns in the plot of this campy cloak-and-dagger one-act.
In addition to John Nasca's fabulous 1960s fashions, Robert Hilliard's over-the-top hair/wigs and makeup, Rob Peck's funky and functional set design, and Mindy Hilt and Jon Steinhagen's inventive opening film montage and musical composition all enhance this late-night entertainment.