Well, peoples, I got out of the house Friday night and took in a show, Stage Q’s production of Die! Mommie! Die! The play was penned by the noted playwright, actor, and female impersonator Charles Busch, who portrayed the lead role in the play’s first staging in the late 1990s and repeated the role in a 2003 film version (which I didn’t know had been filmed until looking up that link on Wikipedia this morning).
I don’t intend to make this a full-on review of Stage Q’s version, which had its final performance on Saturday, the last day of its 2016-2017 season. (Oh, the above image came from Stage Q’s Facebook page.) However, I will highlight a couple of things that I thought made their production special in my mind further down this post. Let me just say, though, that the production was a really fun, mightily campy romp (well, naturally), that the performances were perfectly done (joyously over the top and heartfelt when needed), and that I recommend you go see it if a theater company in your town produces it (hope they’ll turn up the camp as well).
First, I will give you the basics of Die! Mommie! Die! to pique your interests should it indeed come to your town. (Don’t worry, I won’t give spoilers). The play has six characters, the lead being Angela Arden, a glamorous singing star of the mid-20th century whose star has faded a bit by the time of the play’s setting, her glamorous home in 1967 Hollywood. Angela (played by a male actor, naturally) has a shrill daughter who can’t stand her; an emotionally insecure gay son; a politically conservative maid; and a… *ahem* well-endowed ex-actor for a lover. Oh, and Angela has a husband (played in Stage Q’s production by an actress) who finds out Angela’s been catting around behind his back. I won’t go any further (really, go see it), suffice it to say the play wouldn’t be titled Die! Mommie! Die! without a little bit of foul play involved… although foul play is not the end of it, not by a long shot.
Now that you know the basics (and, again, go see it if it’ll be playing playing in your town, or check out the above linked film version if it’s on cable or Netflix or wherever), I want to highlight a few things about Stage Q’s Die! Mommie! Die! that I thought were pretty cool. The first was right at the outset, when a filmed montage prefaced the live action. The tape featured footage of Angela performing, superimposed with showbiz trade headlines that tracked her career’s downward arc… and a reference to a key character I didn’t mention above (again, no spoilers). I’m not sure how the Stage Q crew assembled the video, but it was was nicely done and sweetly communicated Angela’s background to the audience. You’re probably asking, “How’d the show it?” Nothing much, just a from-the-ceiling computer projector you’d find in any office and a simple canvas screen on which to project the film that was easily wheeled to make way for the actors. (You’ll see the screen pre-show in reviewer Aaron Conklin’s tweet that I’ve embedded below.) Seeing that and other technological touches used later in the play (one word: psychedelic), the audience could sense that Stage Q fulfilled its wish of putting on a show that could utilize the resources on hand yet still stayed true to the play’s campy spirit.
Another nice touch that only added to the camp of this staging of Die! Mommie! Die! was the occasional breaking of the fourth wall. That wall-breaking wasn’t a constant presence as it was on such TV shows as Modern Family or The Bernie Mac Show. But there was the occasional side-eye or wink to the audience, as well as in-character nods to the crew in the director’s perch, including one character blurting out a “See, Mr. Director? I got it!” type of remark. (Yes, it got quite the laugh from the audience, as did the rest of the play.)
Then there were real dents the cast put into that fourth wall, and I’ll explain in detail: Stage Q produced Die! Mommie! Die! within the very intimate Evjue Stage of the Bartell Theatre, which is a black-box type of performance area only measuring 30×50 feet and seating no more than 90 people. That means the audience are literally a couple of feet from and at eye level with the performers. The space also allowed for 2 of the 3 on-stage sofas to be placed at each end of the performance area, with the 3rd sofa at mid-stage for the actors (naturally). Those at-the-wings sofas were reserved for four lucky audience members (guests of Stage Q or company volunteers perhaps?). But the actors knew those sofas were there, too, and in full character, they would occasionally sit right down on those sofas or armrests and briefly interact with the lucky foursome, either to offer them an audibly noticeable side comment or even take a swig from their drinks (The Bartell lobby serves alcohol). This type of interaction reminded me of It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, where Garry Shandling and his cast knew they were characters on a sitcom and as such interacted with the studio audience (and even invited them onstage every now and again) so often that the forth wall on that show was virtually nonexistent. (Gosh, that was a great show.) You can see the Evjue Stage setup and how one of those couches were situated in the below post from Stage Q’s Facebook page. Yes, this is a photo of Friday night’s performance. And, no, you can’t see me because (A) I was in male mode and (B) I’m sitting in the dark and behind Stage Q’s thank you message.
And speaking of the audience, Friday night’s performance of Die! Mommie! Die! was a sellout. In fact, I was led to believe I bought the last ticket for that night’s performance earlier that morning. No, I wasn’t procrastinating or debating about whether to go or not; I just didn’t get the chance to buy my ducat until that morning. But I’m glad I did get to attend Friday night, because the atmosphere was absolutely electric! Seriously, the audience and cast felt each other’s energy quite a bit.
Perhaps such energy is a byproduct of a play as campy as Die! Mommie! Die! Whatever the case, it made for a pretty awesome evening, one I’m glad I had the chance to enjoy last Friday night and hope to enjoy again in the future. I know, I know, not every play is built to have such magic… but when it does, and you’re in the presence of it as I was on Friday night, you’ll really love adding it to the live entertainment subsection of your memory banks.