Sunday, June 1, 2014

Applause! Applause! Review of StageLight Entertainment's Die, Mommie, Die! at The BACCA Arts Center by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of StageLight Entertainment's production of the play Die, Mommie, Die! at The BACCA Arts Center was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 4 (2014) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Die, Mommie, Die!
StageLight Entertainment Production
The BACCA Arts Center (149 Wellwood Avenue, Lindenhurst, NY)
Reviewed 5/31/14

Die, Mommie, Die! was written by Charles Busch. The play was first produced at the Coast Playhouse in Los Angeles, California in 1999 where it won an Ovation Award. A film was made in 2003 and in 2007, it was produced in New York for the first time at New World Stages starring Charles Busch in the lead role of Angela/Barbara Arden. The production won a Lucille Lortel Award and was nominated for Drama Desk, American Theatre Wing and Outer Critics Circle Awards. 

This comic, over-the-top, campy melodrama is meant to evoke faded images of long gone movie divas like Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, Lana Turner and Bette Davis. The main character in the play is Angela Arden, a former singer and actress from northwest Saskatchewan, Canada who was forced to retire after the death of her twin sister Barbara, when critics and audiences alike concluded she seemed to have lost all her talent. Given her horrible marriage to film producer Sol Sussman, who owes 20 million dollars to the mob, Ms. Arden has taken a young lover, Tony Parker, an out-of-work actor who is also sleeping with her daughter Edie and her son Lance. Sol finds out about the affair but refuses to divorce her keeping her in a living hell with him as the prison warden. What's a girl to do when her husband cuts up her credit cards? Kill him, of course! Angela believes she has accomplished the task by poisoning his suppository. Suddenly Angela goes on an LSD trip, their maid Bootsie Karp appears to have accidentally poisoned herself, scissors get thrown, Edie's hymen breaks, Lance gets a tongue bath, someone tries to kill Angela, FBI agents show up, Jews promise to become Christians and raise money for Richard Nixon, and, incredibly, although all is forgiven, Barbara, who everyone expected was alive from the first minutes of the play, walks off in grande dame style to accept responsibility for her actions.

Chris Rosselli takes on the tough task of playing Angela/Barbara Arden. Chris is a man playing a woman just as Charles Busch played the original role but it is very important he be more than a drag queen. He must transcend all humor potentially obtained solely from the drag element and must play the role "straight". Although Chris Rosselli is far more low key, laid back and less frenetic than Charles Busch in the role, he pulls it off well, gathering sympathy for the character earlier in the play rather than later. I was pleased with his performance even though he didn't milk the diva element as much as he could have. Salvatore Casto was perfectly cast as Lance Sussman, Sol's homosexual son who was thrown out of college for being a bad influence on the faculty. He was allegedly discovered with the eight male professors of the Math Department being spun around nude on a Lazy Susan. Lance is hated by his father, loved by his mother and teased by his sister, all resulting in some undefined "emotional problems" for which he sees a psychiatrist. Salvatore Casto is a very talented actor with great potential and he gave the role of Lance his all, even though it appears he was denied the opportunity to play the part to the fullest effect possible. 

Michael H. Carlin directed the production and did a good job with the exception of two fatal flaws. The first is the excruciatingly slow pace of this show. Most productions of Die, Mommie, Die! run 90 minutes usually without an intermission. This production ran almost three hours. Even given the intermission, it was a full hour longer than it should have been. The dialogue and scenes seemed to drag at times (no pun intended). This is an easily correctable problem but it should have been addressed prior to opening night. The second flaw is that all the passionate, gay intimacy present in the second act between Lance and Tony somehow never made it onto the stage. Whatever hang-ups the director might have about presenting gay intimacy on stage or regarding the difference in ages between Lance and Tony, he should not deny the audience the opportunity to see the play as Charles Busch intended. I am very certain Salvatore Casto could have handled the situation well. I am not that confident that Mike McKasty could have done the same as Tony Parker. I have no idea what the Casting Directors were thinking putting Mike McKasty in this role. Tony Parker is a character that must exude sexuality and it must be believable he would be able to seduce Angela Arden, as well as her two children. Mr. McKasty doesn't have those qualities and is far too old for the part, which is a major problem since he is such a central character in the story. Beyond that, Mr. McKasty was very uncertain delivering his lines, often hesitating and correcting himself when he started to misspeak. Even the sock he stuffed down his pants to make him appear well-endowed was off-center and disturbingly distracting.

Jessie Maldonado was well-suited to play Edie Sussman, an unlikeable, self-absorbed daddy's girl, as was Guy DeMatties, who was Sol Sussman, the egotistic, homophobic film producer husband of Angela Arden. I don't know whether it was the actors or the director who made the very bad decision to encourage the two of them to intimately and passionately embrace in a manner that suggested they were on the verge of sleeping together (if they hadn't already crossed that line), which was buttressed by the presence of their maid Bootsie Karp, competently portrayed by Kerry Quirke, who clearly acted as if she wanted to be part of a threesome with them when she sat next to them on the coach trying to intertwine her arms and legs with theirs. I understand there may be some Freudian interpretation that would support Edie's hidden, subconscious desire to sleep with her father, but it shouldn't have been made so explicitly manifest resulting in some extremely uncomfortable scenes. Bootsie had the funniest line in the show when she turned to Lance, after he was supposed to have handled Tony Parker's eleven inch tool, and said, innocently, "Sometimes you have to face things that are hard to swallow."

I had never been to a StageLight Entertainment production at The BACCA (Babylon Citizens Council on the Arts) Arts Center and I am pleased to report it is a cozy little theater with a friendly staff, reasonably priced concessions and a good, general admission seating policy. Great attention to detail was paid in putting up the set and the company deserves credit for tackling such a challenging production. I had a very enjoyable evening and I highly recommend you see StageLight Entertainment's production of Die, Mommie, Die! while you have the chance. You can obtain more information about StageLight Entertainment productions by visiting their website at

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