By Robert Bethune
I think the Who Wants Cake? guys at The Ringwald Theatre took an oath for their current show, “The Facts of Life: The Lost Episode.” I think the oath ran something like, “I hereby swear to play it camp, to play the whole thing camp, and to play nothing at all but camp.” To which the oath-giver replied, “Kiss the book.” To which The Ringwald crew replied, “Kiss my ass, bro!” and took off, never looking back.
The show is a send-up of the popular 1980s television sitcom “The Facts of Life,” which one may recall included none other than Molly Ringwald (name ring a bell?) in the first-season cast. There is a silly sketch of a story involving healthy helpings of “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” Four students, Jo, Blair, Natalie and Tootie, save their dorm and their housemother, Mrs. Garrett, from the evil head of the school, who wants to tear down the dorm and molest the housemother. To imagine Joe Bailey (who also directs) as Mrs. Garrett, imagine Dolly Parton gone all jowly. To imagine Richard Parton as Blair, think of Lindsay Lohan (the blonde version) as a catty teen slut. To imagine Jamie Richards as Jo, think of Rosie O’Donnell in a fit of pugnacious indigestion with heavy five o’clock shadow.
In his guise as Natalie, Joe Plambeck could be Ugly Betty if he had those glasses on; in his guise as the evil schoolmaster, he more or less channels Captain Picard gone to the dark side. Jerry Haines as Tootie unobtrusively slips out of the “man playing a woman for laughs” mode; his Tootie is an incongruously somewhat real person.
Design-wise, sets and lighting are, I’m sorry to sad, crude. But at least they don’t get in the way. But Melissa Beckwith’s costumes, prep-school uniforms and Mrs. Garrett’s frump frock work well.
Joe Bailey’s direction is relentlessly energetic; after an hour, I was ready for intermission. He does camp-gross as well as camp-lascivious; if you have a weak stomach, you might not do too well when Plambeck as Natalie sucks on a tube of K-Y jelly for the third time. However, the scene when passion erupts between Blair and Jo is a highlight.
As for the musical numbers, which are done to recorded playback, you can’t take them seriously; the voices are OK and the choreography is just silly hoofing, which is what the show should have.
A fundamental mechanism of laughter is the laughter of one who feels superior to that which one laughs at. That is exactly the comic mechanism at work here, and I use the word mechanism advisedly. As funny as the show is, it may leave you feeling a bit empty as you drive home, for there is nothing here but silly antics that are funny precisely because they are silly, childishly silly, even moronically silly, and thereby hand us opportunities for superior laughter by the bucketful. That’s what this show aims at, that’s what this show delivers, that’s what you should go to enjoy.
‘The Facts of Life: The Lost Episode’
Who Wants Cake Theatre at The Ringwald, 22742 Woodward Ave., Ferndale. Sat.-Monday through Aug. 4. Tickets: $10-$20. For information: 248-556-8581 or http://www.whowantscaketheatre.com.