'The Two Janes' is risque business Theater review: What's happened now to Baby Jane? Boy, would you be surprised.

January 11, 1996|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

The 1962 movie "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" has a surprise ending. But that's the least of the surprises in the 14Karat Cabaret's drag adaptation, "The Two Janes," at the Theatre Project.

The Joan Crawford-Bette Davis movie was considered a travesty by some critics three decades ago. Now it's become something of a cult classic. 14Karat Cabaret founder Laure Drogoul -- who adapted, directed and designed this production -- has capitalized on both aspects of the movie's reputation.

She has created a travesty of the travesty, which, since that appears to be her intent, would have to be considered a form of praise. The result is fun -- in a risque, gender-bending, "Rocky Horror" sort of way.

Though the characters of Baby Jane Hudson and her sister Blanche are portrayed by men in drag, neither Madenney SSSHHHMadenney, in the Bette Davis role of Jane, nor Joe Meduza, in the Joan Crawford role of Blanche, make any attempt to imitate their famed predecessors.

That may seem surprising, since both screen divas are favorites of female impersonators. But it is actually funnier to hear gruff, low-pitched male voices issuing from performers dressed, in Jane's case, in little-girl party dresses and animal slippers, and in Blanche's, in a black negligee. Similarly, Gary B. Corbin's mustache lends that certain je ne sais quoi to his depiction of Blanche's devoted maid.

The plot is a very loose adaptation of screenwriter Lukas Heller's script about two faded screen stars -- Blanche, who is confined to a wheelchair, and crazy Jane, who is Blanche's sadistic caretaker.

With the aid of Peter Walsh and Martha Colburn (film), and Linda Smith (music and sound), Drogoul tosses in lots of hokey special effects, ranging from snippets of the movie soundtrack, comically lip-synced by the actors, to new black-and-white film clips of such climactic events as the car accident that crippled Blanche.

There's also a large, garish marionette of Baby Jane (operated by Michael Lamason) in her child-star heyday, and a human-scale bird cage, which houses Blanche's pet parakeet, portrayed by Peggy S. Bitzer in a plumed leather cap. Bitzer is an integral part of one of the show's silliest/scariest effects, when Jane prepares a surprise meal for Blanche. And the cage subsequently serves as a launching pad for a Peter Pan-style stunt, which has to be one of the more daring special effects ever mounted at the Theatre Project.

One of Drogoul's interpolations is rather baffling -- a recurring reference to a beefsteak, which grows larger and larger, until it is portrayed by a man (Fred Collins) in a steak costume. This may refer to beefy actor Victor Buono, who appeared in the movie as a character Jane tried to seduce. At least that's my best guess, since SSSHHHMadenney's Jane has similar intentions toward the beefsteak.

(That description alone should be enough to let you know whether "The Two Janes" is your cup of tea.)

"The Two Janes," which runs just about an hour, is only one part of a typical 14Karat Cabaret variety format, which concludes with a band (the Intoxicats last weekend; Three Pig Cafe this weekend) and begins with smooth, a cappella singer Linda Richardson.

It would be difficult to think of a more sophisticated and sedate intro for "Three Janes," which is anything but.

'The Two Janes'

Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.

When: 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $10

Call: (410) 752-8558

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