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Dee Freeman and Christopher Callen in Drama Queens from Hell at the Odyssey Theatre (photo by Ed Krieger)
Dee Freeman and Christopher Callen in Drama Queens from Hell at the Odyssey Theatre (photo by Ed Krieger)

Drama Queens from Hell

Reviewed by Lovell Estell III
The Odyssey Theater
Through September 25

RECOMMENDED

So what do an ostentatious transsexual, a sassy Blaxploitation film star and a bitter washed up TV actress all have in common?  Norma Desmond!  

In this thoroughly enjoyable comedy, veteran television scribe Peter Lefcourt skewers multiple targets that include one of Tinsel Town’s most revered classics as well as the jaded world of “the business.” For good measure, Lefcourt tosses in a murder mystery — of sorts.

When low-brow film director Gerard Manville (Paul Galliano) gets the idea for a modern remake of Sunset Blvd, (this redux takes place on the seedier east side of that famous motorway), he immediately calls on super-agent Artie Paramecium (who first appears sitting on the toilet), to provide the needed talent. Artie’s line-up of potential Gloria Swansons include the unapologetically brash transsexual Brianne McCauley (Chad Borden), former Blaxploitation bit player Felicia Brown (Dee Freeman), and a crinkly, over-the-hill television actress named Maxine Zabar (Christopher Callen).

Not surprisingly, the competition for the part is primed for laughs, and Lefcourt mines it with pointed vigor, taking aim at our obsession with PC (ageism, sexism, racism, etc.), as well as Hollywood’s endless bullshit, cynicism and feral backstabbing. The aspiring Norma Desmonds wind their way through visits to their doctors, expensive counseling from their acting coaches, anxious calls to the director, and the dodgy machinations of their agent. They also cope with the added angst of putting up with each other.

Then, at last, there’s the big audition (staged with actual footage from the movie, nicely handled by projection designer Yee Eun Nam), which they all seem to miraculously “nail.”

Alas for poor Gerard, things don’t go as planned — but he does prove that there’s fun even in dying. Performances, perfectly tempered by director Terri Hanauer, are quite good. It all sprightly unfolds on Peter Hickok’s expansive open stage with the aid of a zany collection of rolling props. Mylette Nora provides a colorful batch of costumes that run the gamut from the flamboyant to the notably ordinary. Rounding out the cast is Andrew Diego as Gerard’s gay vegan secretary, Raphael.  

 

Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 &7 p.m.; through Sept. 25; (323)-960-7787 or www.plays411.com/dramaqueens. Running time: 2 hours with one fifteen minute intermission.

 

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