William Castle fiends take note. If Strait-Jacket era Joan Crawford is your thing then you better rush your cult film worshipping selves to the Athenaeum Theatre for the final performances of Glitterati Production’s beyond fun Who Killed Joan Crawford?
Taking place on Tony Awards night in 1993, this engaging and campy thriller revolves around the backstabbing antics of a group of longtime friends. Of course, the fact that all the players are dressed in various forms of Crawford drag does eventually limit their mobility as various weapons are brought out for purposes of bloody dispatching. There is also the small problem of their mysteriously missing host.
Directing Michael Leeds’ cattily inventive script with flair, director John Nasca highlights the material’s expected, much loved murder-mystery tropes with zeal. He and Lana Whittington, who designed the show’s more physical interactions, also skillfully help denote the fact that this ensemble of characters are not experienced drag performers, but grown men indulging a friend’s grand birthday wish.
Importantly, those various versions of Joan, focusing on everything from her early treks into stardom to her latter day romps in psycho biddy territory (note the Straight-Jacket reference above), are delivered with exquisite, recognizable skill by Nasca. He is grandly assisted by Robert Hilliard, who puts a definite, celluloid stamp on the wide variety of wigs used.
Bringing this brisk 75 minute romp fully into the pleasure zone, though, is it’s very agreeable cast. Compromised of newer talent and seasoned veterans of Chicago’s professional theater scene, the ensemble joyfully gives their characters a sense of specificity as a whole. It’s truly a nice balance of personalities, with John Cardone and Patrick Rybarczyk, in particular, giving an arch urgency and playful verve to their calculating, frequently divisive interactions. Nicely, Michael Hampton, as the seemingly loving and emotionally convincing Stewart Fry, truly commands attention here, as well. His character is perhaps the most well rounded of the lot, and he makes the most of every occasionally contrary, frequently whimsical moment.
More information on the show, which runs in Chicago until November 10th, is available at https://www.facebook.com/events/2804610532934028/.
Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!