By John Quinn
The tabloid journalist lurking inside me will do anything to divert your attention from the glorious mid-summer weather, and he’s not above using somewhat-misleading headlines. It’s all semantics. You think of “travesty” as “a debased, distorted, or grossly inferior imitation.” But the solons at Merriam-Webster consider the primary definition to be “a burlesque translation or literary or artistic imitation usually grotesquely incongruous in style, treatment, or subject matter.” The Ringwald Theatre has earned a reputation for elevating the grotesquely incongruous to an art form. Any similarity between Jamie Morris’ original comedy “Mommie Queerest” and a certain 1981 biopic is strictly intentional.
To quote head RAZZberry John Wilson in The Official Razzie Movie Guide, “The Mother of All Razzie Movies, ‘Mommie Dearest,’ is based – incoherently – on Christina Crawford’s memoir of life with a monster of a mother. It’s also as close to laugh-a-minute incompetence as mainstream Hollywood movie making has ever gotten.” Oh, yes, it’s an awful picture. In 1990 it won the Razzie for worst movie of the decade. More than 30 years later, one still poses the question: What was Paramount Studios thinking? Was anybody thinking? Certainly not Faye Dunaway, who arguably tanked her career starring in this bomb.
But sometimes endeavors can be so bad they’re good; thus we enter the realm of “camp.”
“Camp: n. something so outrageously artificial, affected, inappropriate, or out-of-date as to be considered amusing.” One may think “Mommie Dearest” is as campy as it can get. But no, “Mommie Queerest” trumps its source in that department. Morris, who also penned 2010’s “The Facts of Life: The Lost Episode,” the revival of which was last summer’s addition to the Ringwald’s “Summer Camp” theme, presents a gleefully malicious script that deftly highlights the film’s flaws. Then, for good measure, tosses in a Ringwald-style twist that leaves the audience thinking, “Why of course! We should have guessed that!”
Travesty is an edgy genre. Success depends on a go-for-broke, unashamed commitment to the material, no matter how silly. Dyan Bailey, in her directorial debut, got everything right the first time. Not only are her performers on top of their game, her video design – a mash-up of clips from the flick, phony news headlines and altered photos – functions like an additional actor.
In “Mommie Queerest,” the four guys donning multiple dresses, wigs, heels and – gasp – bathing suits are comedy veterans sincerely committed to their roles. Big, brash Joe Bailey plays Faye Dunaway playing Joan Crawford in makeup inspired equally by Groucho Marx and Bozo the Clown. His every line reading, gesture and attitude is thoroughly over the top and therefore just right for campy comedy. Joe Plambeck plays Diana Scarwid playing Christina Crawford, capturing every forced exaggeration Scarwid brought to her utterly vacuous film performance.
Valiantly portraying everybody else in the film are Dan Morrison and Richard Payton. This is a quick-witted quartet who can glibly ad-lib through the minor snafus of an opening night. All in all, it appears the cast is having a blast on stage and they’ve been gracious enough to let us join the picnic.
Party hearty, dudes, party hearty!
The Ringwald Theatre, 22742 Woodward Ave., Ferndale. Friday-Monday through Aug. 5. 85 minutes (with intermission). $10-20. 248-545-5545. http://www.theringwald.com