One-act drag comedies set up camp at Spotlighters

June 22, 1995|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Sun Theater Critic

It's not as strange as it might seem that the Spotlighters Theatre is producing Charles Busch's double bill, "Sleeping Beauty or Coma" and "Vampire Lesbians of Sodom."

This theater has a reputation for giving directors and performers a chance to, well, take chances. More to the point, one of the performers the Spotlighters nurtured was David Drake, whose big break came in 1987 when he succeeded Busch in the starring roles in the long-running off-Broadway production of "Sleeping Beauty" and "Vampire Lesbians."

So, in a way, these two one-act comedies have come full circle. And how strange are they? Suffice it to say that if the titles don't appeal to you, the show probably won't, either. But if you're in the mood for sheer silliness, then these two drag spoofs will keep you grinning.

Despite having the less amusing title, "Sleeping Beauty" is the more tightly structured of the pair. Far from the Brothers Grimm, and even farther from Disney, this is a modern-day fable set in the mod London fashion world, beginning in the 1960s.

The principal drag roles are Enid (Bryan Dingle), the world's top fashion model, and Fauna (Randolph Hadaway in the Drake role), the designer whose miniskirted creations make Enid a star. Since fashion is all about dressing up and, in many cases, dressing to conceal instead of reveal, drag works well in this context.

Furthermore, it works well in this production because director Terry J. Long understands that comedy is only truly funny if it's played for real. In this case, the life-or-death conflict concerns Enid, who is being pursued by a villainous rival designer, portrayed with evil glee by Harry Susser (David Flury will play this role for the rest of the run).

Long also knows when to cut loose with a strobe-lighted chase scene, a bit of ham or a dippy 1960s dance (choreographed by James Hunnicutt). Adding to the fun are Monica Johnstone's costume designs -- from bell bottoms to Pucci prints -- and the period hair and makeup designs credited to consultant Todd Sestero. (I especially liked the Lady Bird Johnson wigs worn by a pair of socialite customers.)

While "Sleeping Beauty" spans a few decades, "Vampire Lesbians" -- a spoof of Grade-Z horror movies -- spans centuries. The action begins in Biblical Sodom, where a young maiden (Brian Jacobs) is sacrificed to a vampire lesbian (Hadaway again). Forced to roam the Earth as one of the undead, Jacobs' character seeks revenge on the vamping vampire.

In one of the production's best images, Hadaway appears as La Condessa, a Norma Desmond-esque movie star, complete with turban, death-pallor makeup and an ominous butler -- played by the evening's only cross-dressing female, a hatchet-wielding, tap-dancing Penelope B. Flury.

"Here you are, drinking the blood of every young virgin in Hollywood," a character says to La Condessa.

"Slim pickings," Hadaway answers in the diva's cattiest tones. (And to think, this show was written years before Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Sunset Boulevard" sank its incisors into Broadway.)

It's not coincidence that Busch's feuding vampires wind up in show business. Drag is even better suited to this forum than it was to the world of fashion in "Sleeping Beauty." After all, acting, by definition, is about pretending to be someone else.

But analyzing this hokey, punny material too deeply would be like taking the air out of meringue. Or, if you prefer a more healthful metaphor, think of it this way -- thanks to the Spotlighters, you don't have to go away to camp this summer to have a campy good time.

CAMP MEETING

What: "Sleeping Beauty or Coma" and "Vampire Lesbians of Sodom"

Where: Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul St.

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Through (( July 9

Tickets: $8 and $9

$ Call: (410) 752-1225

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