Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
As a particularly funny moment unfolded during the opening Saturday night performance of “Die! Mommie! Die!” at The Ringwald Theatre, one particular thought occurred to me: How could ANYONE on stage with Joe Bailey keep a straight face – with his mouth thickly outlined in bright red lipstick, his hefty torso adorned by yet another fabulous gown and a delivery that chewed every piece of scenery within miles of downtown Ferndale. In this instance – of which there were a few – Suzan M. Jacokes and Vince Kelley tried their very best, but couldn’t, and the audience loved every minute of it.
And rightfully so, as Who Wants Cake? Theatre has returned to its cross-dressing roots with a delightfully campy spoof of those horrid “grande guignol” flicks of the 1960s, which served as the last hurrahs for such faded movie stars as Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. All of us could use a good laugh right now, and after a season of well-executed (and equally well-received) comedies, dramas and musicals, that’s precisely what director Joe Plambeck and his delicious cast deliver.
With “Die! Mommie! Die!” playwright Charles Busch focuses the spotlight on Angela Arden (Bailey), a once-popular pop recording artist and lounge singer whose vocal skills have long since faded. Stuck in a loveless marriage to movie producer Sol Sussman (Alan Madlane) – another talent on his way down the Hollywood ladder of success – Angela is involved in an affair with local tennis pro (and down-on-his-luck TV star) Tony Parker (Bryan Lark), a “notorious lothario” whose best tool is reputed to be his 11-inch endowment. When Sol ruins her last chance to return to the stage, Angela plots to kill him. Add to the mix an overly attentive daddy’s girl (Melissa Beckwith), an equally infatuated Southern maid (Jacokes), a ditzy gay son with anger management issues (Kelley) and a long-dead sister who still haunts Angela to this day, and the result is one heck of a loopy, loony night at the theater.
While credit must, of course, be given to the playwright and the many twists and turns his script provides, it’s Plambeck and his fine ensemble who especially shine. And many memorable moments are the result of their teamwork.
Lark’s initial entrance immediately endeared him to an appreciative audience Saturday night – thanks to his short-shorts and the enormous, realistic bulge in his pants. (The lengthy audience chatter – pointing out the obvious – was especially interesting.) His lips-on-lips action with Bailey scored additional points with the crowd, as well.
A (fake) scissors toss between Bailey and Beckwith – resulting in a facial stabbing – was surprisingly realistic (and garnered a loud, appreciative reaction from the audience). And Jacokes’ Bootsie was a delight every time she appeared on stage.
There’s plenty more, of course, but the true standout is Bailey, who has more fun with his character than the law should allow. (Watch his fellow actors for their reactions; I suspect he sneaks in something new at every performance.) “This family, frankly, exhausts me,” Angela exhales after yet another exchange with her family. And given the high level of energy Bailey expels throughout the show, he must be physically and emotionally drained as well after his masterful performance.
Plambeck plumbs Busch’s script for every joke he can find, and misses none. However, the almost two-hour show lags a little towards the end, but that’s a momentary lull before the high octane energy returns and all the tasty little secrets are revealed.
Vince Kelley’s costumes are divine, while the sound design and opening montage by Plambeck are excellent.
As the show ended and I left the theater, another thought crossed my mind. The performance was reminiscent of the best skits from “The Carol Burnett Show” – especially when Carol, Tim, Vicky and Harvey couldn’t hold back their laughter. They had fun; we had fun – and I can think of no better compliment to offer this fine team of theater professionals than that.
‘Die! Mommie! Die!’
Who Wants Cake? Theatre at The Ringwald, 22742 Woodward Ave., Ferndale. Friday-Monday through June 7. $10-$20. 248-545-5545. http://www.whowantscaketheatre.com.