Sunday, November 22, 2009

review - Women Behind Bars

Women Behind Bars
written by Tom Eyen
directed by Kurt Koehler
Celebration Theatre
through December 20

For gays, it's a camp! For straights - after all, this is a sendup of the prison exploitation films of the 50s seen by a mainstream audience -it's satirical fun! Tom Eyen's WBB has some great oneliners and visual laughs, but does have a tendency to be on one note and is somewhat dated: prison life... shocking? We've seen and heard it all. Nonetheless, the Celebration's revival has a great cast, smooth direction...and with clips of the actual 50s movies on a screen behind to set the tone, the whole ambience is a blast!
Momma plays the Matron and makes the role devilishly her own. Oversized like Divine, the original star of the play's 1975 off-Broadway run, she struts around the stage like a cat in heat, ready and eager to pounce upon her victims with Bette Davis-like vocal inflections and sickeningly vengeful tactics. Her assistant Louise is played to the hilt by Kimberly Lewis. I particularly like how she opens and closes the play with explicit directives to both crew and audience.The other prisoners are equally terrific: Arianna Ortiz wins our hearts and sympathies as Guadalupe; Jessica Goldapple is a find as Mary-Eleanor, who becomes the Matron's main target of abuse when she spurns her affections - lesbianism is here, if only implied; Tara Karsian makes a strong, foul-mouthed Gloria, Mary-Eleanor's chief ally; Pip Lilly is boldly hilarious as JoJo; Mary DeVault is sweet and precious as prostitute Cheri; Randi Pareira is slick and very amusing as the bible-toting Granny and then returns surprisingly in a different role; Dudley Beene makes Blanche appropriately ethereal and dramatically desperate; Ted Monte, the only male onstage, serves triple duty quite admirably as Paul, Mary-Eleanor's louse of a husband, the jailhouse therapist and as a drug dealer at play's end, and DawnMarie Ferrara (stepping into the role with only a week's rehearsals) ably completes the winning ensemble as Ada, the second Latina inmate.
Koehler's pacing is at the right tempo and the entire staging is pleasingly effective. Some may get bored with the lack of plot - there are only so many catfights one can watch without losing interest. But the loose character structure and very funny lines - "I asked for a cigarette, not a fucking monologue!", make it more than sufficently entertaining fare.
4 out of 5 stars


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