Chicago Theater Review: DESPERATE DOLLS (Strawdog)

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by Barnaby Hughes on November 27, 2014

in Theater-Chicago


Director Michael Driscoll brings B-movie exploitation antics to Strawdog’s Hugen Hall stage in Darren Callahan’s Desperate Dolls. This over-the-top, no-holds-barred dose of scary, sexy entertainment packs a swift punch. Scenes change swiftly, sometimes startlingly, seemingly haphazardly, and nearly always seamlessly, keeping nimble stage manager Shannon Golden and her assistant Tala Said fully occupied. By the end of this 70-minute, intermission-less fright fest, however, everything begins to make sense.

(l to r) Alexandra Fisher and Jim Poole Photo by Tom McGrath

Blonde beauty Matchbox (Alex Fisher), buxom brunette The Vil (Hillary Marren), and red-hot redhead Pretty Sexy (Kelsey Shipley) are the show’s titular dolls. They are very desperate indeed, desperate to make it as actresses in 1968 Hollywood, even if it means seducing sleaze ball Sunny Jack Fennigan (Joe Mack) in order to get a part in one of his low-budget flicks. Into their world of petty jealousies and sexual escapades comes another talent-seeker with nefarious intent, the psychotic agent-cum-serial killer The Captain (Jim Poole). Fantasy and reality blur together as the dolls take on the roles of their lives.

(l to r) Joe Mack and Hillary Marren Photo by Tom McGrath

Fisher, Marren, and Shipley bring equal amounts of sex appeal and desperate vulnerability to their respective roles, while Mack hams it up with great gusto and delight. It’s only Poole whose acting is unsatisfactory, but his one-dimensional part doesn’t provide much of a challenge. Raquel Adorno’s costumes, Jamie Karas’s props, and Ashley Woods’ set stylishly evoke the Swinging Sixties, right down to Pretty Sexy’s go-go boots and the seedy motel room. Subtlety might be in short supply during this Strawdog offering, but it’s hardly necessary when fake blood is flying amidst half-naked girls eagerly jumping in and out of bed. In short, Desperate Dolls revels in cliché with Tarantino-esque abandon.

Kelsey Rhiann Shipley Photo by Tom McGrath

photos by Tom McGrath

Desperate Dolls
Strawdog Theatre Company
Hugen Hall, 3829 N Broadway
Sun, Mon & Tues at 8; Sun at noon
scheduled to end on December 23, 2014
for tickets, call 773.528.9696 or visit

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