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Theater Mon Dec 09 2013

Christmas Camp: Christmas Dearest and We Three Lizas

joanwithchild.jpg

Hell in a Handbag's Christmas Dearest and About Face Theatre's We Three Lizas share a basic premise: They are both based on the Charles Dickens classic tale A Christmas Carol. Both are original musicals, they fuse comedy, and they camp and drag with "traditional" holiday tropes to envision a holiday show that's off the beaten path. And that's where the similarities end.

Christmas Dearest, a sendup of A Christmas Carol starring David Cerda as Joan Crawford as the Virgin Mary (a meta-mashup of pop culture and Christmas themes), is a clever and campy alternative to the usual holiday fare, with the Garland-Rooney spirit of "Let's put on a show!" "Handbag" avoids the typical drag traps and creates an alternative reality that is at once surreal and lowbrow campy.

The play begins on the set of "Oh, Mary!" where Cerda, as Crawford, is playing the Virgin Mary. If that isn't enough meta for you, it becomes clear in the first scene that it is meant to be the "Scrooge" character in a twisted booze blackout-fueled version of the Dickens classic.

Cerda, in his role as Crawford, plays with the idea of drag by playing Joan as we'd like to imagine her: a campy, drunken version of herself more akin to Mommie Dearest than 1920s ingenue. Through the rising action of the play, we visit Joan in many incarnations: As Cerda plays her, as "Little/Flapper Joan" played sweetly by Steve Love, campily as "Drag Joan" (as though Cerda himself were not enough of a Drag Joan to be considered the "Drag Joan" of the show), and hilariously as "Space Joan" by Ed Jones. (In a nice turn of self-referential tongue-in-cheek, Cerda has "Drag Joan" performing one of the hits, "Mad at the Dirt," from his own Joan Crawford-inspired rock band, The Joans.)

Some highlights of the show included Alex Grelle as the coked-out Olive LaLake, a flapper companion for younger Joan in the flashback sequences in the 1920s; the sultry "Santa Won't You Come?" musical number sung by Flapper Joan (Steve Love); a bizarre imaginary turn as "The Hot Dog Queen" by Young Christina Crawford, played by Christopher Lewis; and the final singalong number (complete with bouncing Joan head) "You'd Better Have a Merry Christmas, Dammit!," which I hummed all the way home.

lizas.jpgWe Three Lizas was the flipside of Christmas Dearest; campy in a more glossy way, it played Too Wong Foo to Handbag's Pink Flamingos. We Three Lizas was necessarily less Garland-Rooney, because, well, "She's Liza, darling".

Also loosely based on A Christmas Carol, Lizas focused on the idea of three incarnations of Liza Minnelli as the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, but played them as "Liza Was," "Liza Is," and "Liza Always," with three very different time frames in Liza's career serving as past, present and future. The play begins as inventor Conrad Ticklebottom is at a low point in his career as a boxmaker. He's lost his mojo and needs the spirit of Liza to bring him back. Ticklebottom, played by Scott Duff, serves as the Scrooge character.

While the Ticklebottom story had some bright spots (the Andy Warhol club scene was classic) the Liza numbers outshone the others. Some favorite numbers included "I Can't Believe I'm Me" with Danielle Plisz as the plucky and drunken Liza Was; the hilarious "Balls to You" with Mark David Kaplan as Liza Is; and "Mama Taught Me," sung soulfully by Bethany Thomas as Liza Always. Other notables are Shariesse Hamilton as Donna and Dana Tretta as Reggie.

Christmas Dearest plays Thursdays through Sundays at 7:30pm at Mary's Attic, 5400 N. Clark St., through December 29. Tickets are $15-$25; visit brownpapertickets.com to purchase in advance.

We Three Lizas runs Thursdays through Sundays at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, through January 5. Tickets are $45 and are available at aboutfacetheatre.com or stage773.com.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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