Recommended *** “Christmas Dearest”, the latest campy parody from Hell in a Handbag Productions is hilarious. David Cerda’s Joan Crawford is at her bitchy best! The plot is silly and predictable, but you just can’t help laughing at this show! Gotta love it, I give it 3 ½ Spotlights.
The studio is filming an epic musical about Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Joan is starring. Her Mary is anything but humble, however. Her Mary is flashy, tacky and heavy on the make-up. Since she’s the biggest star in Hollywood – at least in her own mind – she’s behaving like the bitch queen.
When filming doesn’t go well, she explodes, demanding a rewrite. During a break, Carol Ann (Ed Jones), her meek assistant, gets her a strong drink and asks for a day off for Christmas. The entire cast/crew is furious when Joan demands that shooting begin at 9:00 on Christmas. As they all say goodnight, hugging each other, they ignore the bitch queen of Hollywood.
At home, as our star is re-writing her script – and who cares about historical accuracy – she pours a big drink, lights a cigarette and calls for Christina (Frankie Leo Bennett), the child she loves to torture.
Over the course of the evening, Joan has some strange visitors – the real Mary (Rachel Hadlock), Mother of God, who isn’t at all happy with her movie portrayal. An old friend, Olive LaLake (Kristopher Bottrall), a thoroughly ‘bad’ flapper, Faye Dunaway (Christea Parent), and Space Hunk (Chazie Bly), her co-star in “Space Pussy a Go-Go”.
Under the prodding of Christmas Past, Joan remembers her childhood in the laundry, when she had only one possession, a ‘toy/doll’ made out of hangers and strategically place buttons, which she called Hangy. With Christmas Present, she saw Vernita (Robert Williams) and her sick child, Teeny Teena (Frankie Leo Bennett), whose name becomes a running joke throughout the story, because Joan never gets it right.
Joan’s final visitor is her frenemy, Bette Davis (Caitlin Jackson) – wearing her costume from “Baby Jane”. Bette shows her the future, when Christina is making a film about her horrible childhood. They sing a great song called “Two Old Broads”. Joan tells Bette that she’ll change and be nice to everyone except Christina, because Christina wants to be famous like her mother but she’ll never be a good actress, so Joan will continue to torture her, so she can exaggerate the abuse in the future.
On Christmas morning, Joan dons a ruffled dress straight out of “Gone with the Wind’, covered in poinsettias with huge floppy hat adorned with poinsettias. Christina comes out wearing the daughter version of the poinsettia dress and hat. Joan serenades everyone with “Merry Christmas Everyone (Except Christina)” which is hysterical.
“Christmas Dearest” runs through December 30th at Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark St., Chicago. Note: patrons must be over 21. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Sundays at 6:30. Check www.handbagproductions.org for holiday schedule changes. Running time is 1 hour, 35 minutes with an intermission. Tickets range from $22-$30; limited VIP reserved seating with drink $40-$100. Street parking is available. (Meterered) FYI www.handbagproductions.org.
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