Meet the Rogue

Live theater. Unsolicited commentary.
From Detroit to Lansing.

Carolyn Hayes is the Rogue Critic, est. late 2009.

In 2011, the Rogue attended 155 plays, readings, and festivals (about 3 per week) and penned 115 reviews (about 2.2 per week).

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Theaters and Companies

The Abreact (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2011 SIR

The AKT Theatre Project (Wyandotte)
website | reviews

Blackbird Theatre (Ann Arbor)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Detroit Repertory Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews

The Encore Musical Theatre Co. (Dexter)
website | reviews

Go Comedy! (Ferndale)
website | reviews

Hilberry Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Jewish Ensemble Theatre (West Bloomfield)
website | reviews

Magenta Giraffe Theatre Co. (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Matrix Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Meadow Brook Theatre (Rochester)
website | reviews

Performance Network Theatre (Ann Arbor)
website | reviews

Planet Ant Theatre (Hamtramck)
website | reviews

Plowshares Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews

Purple Rose Theatre Co. (Chelsea)
website | reviews

The Ringwald Theatre (Ferndale)
website | reviews

Tipping Point Theatre (Northville)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Threefold Productions (Ypsilanti)
website | reviews

Two Muses Theatre (West Bloomfield Township)
website | reviews

Williamston Theatre (Williamston)
website | reviews







« Tuna Does Vegas | Main | Les Misérables »

Mommie Queerest

You know how little kids play-act distillations of favorite movies they barely understand? They skip everything but the best parts, change characters at will, announce things that should be implied, and probably prod and hiss among each other when they’re getting it wrong. Some people look at such a precocious endeavor and see nothing but sweetness and light; the less pure among us see comic gold. If you’re the type who thinks the only things that could further improve such a delectable scenario would be permission to laugh openly and a disturbing preoccupation with genitals, then The Ringwald Theatre’s Mommie Queerest is calling your name.

Playwright Jamie Morris’s gutter-diving romp is inspired by the camp classic Mommie Dearest, a shrieking public excoriation of real-life movie star Joan Crawford based on the furious tell-all book by her adopted daughter Christina. The film, in particular its lead performance by Faye Dunaway, aims for deadly seriousness, but overshoots so far that it all but satirizes itself. Thus, left with no room to heighten, director Dyan Bailey piles the comic layers and filthy inferences high, in a winning bid to effectively shoot the moon.

Here, Joe Bailey death-stares into the reportedly fetid soul of Joan Crawford, and Christina’s girlish flats and blonde ringlets are the territory of Joe Plambeck. The play follows the same timeline as the movie; in fact, a blank back wall hosts a doctored version of the opening credits sequence (also by director Bailey, who is further credited with sound and video design). Later, borrowed establishing shots bookend scenes — which are abruptly devoid of intros or outros — and foretell upcoming highlights for true Mommie devotees. Two more familiar Ringwald faces flesh out the rest of the multitudes: among them, Dan Morrison keeps up appearances as Joan’s man friend “Uncle” Greg while also doling out scowls as a pissy schoolmarm, while Richard Payton gives good sycophant as personal assistant Carol Ann or robotic stiltedness as a powerful studio head.

Playfulness radiates off the production, rooting around the scripted material for ever-more jokes and fun. Morrison’s stately set design nimbly handles the countless settings, keeping things moving impossibly fast with two velvet-draped curtains and a pivotal settee. Costumes by Vince Kelley are excessively resplendent, tossing vintage swimwear in with impeccably fitted suits and gowns in what must be a flurry of quick changes. The more grotesque of Crawford’s indignities get a dual boost by Katy Schoetzow and Plambeck (properties and lighting, respectively), giving horror-movie desperation to the over-the-top scenes and undercutting them with wild sight gags. The core relationship speaks to Bailey and Plambeck’s respective campy strengths, the former histrionic and upstaging and the latter a prim and polite void. But as Christina grows into adolescence and gains the fortitude to fight back against her mother, the pair’s give and take enters yet another comic dimension.

And that’s just when everything is going right. Because the secret weapon of Bailey and company lies not only in the license to get it wrong, but the encouragement to blow the gaffes wide open. It’s acceptable here because the material is already hovering at the gutter — seemingly every character is depraved and hot for every other one, and a major plot deviation throws the cross-gender casting into garish relief. More importantly, however, the gambit succeeds by the collaborative efforts of the performers: it takes skill to go off the rails without losing speed, and to regain near-complete control just as fast is nothing short of colossal. The clear accord of a sharp quartet allows the sloppiness to be fun rather than cringe-y; certainly, such seams-showing errors and salty ad libs more than charmed a capacity opening-weekend crowd.

Even with the unscripted extras that come down the pike, even with generous holds for crazed laughter, this Mommie Queerest can’t even top 90 minutes (which includes a 10-minute intermission for cleanup and reset). But that’s how it should be — anything longer would drag; it would curdle. This production wisely takes its brevity and surface-skimming approach and capitalizes on it by maximizing every opportunity for parody and having fun with making fun. The end result is the best kind of comic sugar high: fast-acting, dizzying, and eminently worth the bellyache.

Mommie Queerest is no longer playing.
For the latest from the Ringwald, click here.