Theater Preview: DIE, MOMMIE, DIE! (Los Angeles Theatre Works at UCLA)

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by Tony Frankel on April 25, 2019

in Theater-Los Angeles

SHE’S BA-A-A-CK AND SHE’S FA-A-A-ABULOUS

Charles Busch’s play Die, Mommie, Die! is equal parts Greek comic-tragedy and Hollywood kitsch — a melodramatic campy cult classic in the vein of 1960s gothic horror films such as Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte. I saw the very first production at the Coast Playhouse back in 1999 starring the cabaret and drag legend himself, the great Wendy Worthington, and Greg Mullavey (remember him from TV’s Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman?).

Well, it’s about time this clever, kitschy, psychedelic, drag satire came back home to Los Angeles starring the inimitable Mr. Busch himself, er, herself. In between writing, drawing, painting, cabareting (sp?) and basically being fabulous and sweet, La Busch is visiting the Southland from his Manhattan home to play his signature role, Angela Arden. This sublimely ridiculous romp opens on May 17, 2019, and runs for one weekend only until May 19. Each of the four performances at UCLA’s state-of-the-art James Bridges Theater will be recorded live by L.A. Theatre Works in front of an audience for future radio broadcast and distribution on CD (yay! souvenirs!).

Unlike Busch, his alter-ego (and I do mean “ego”!) Angela is a faded Hollywood Star who is both stuck in a neutered marriage and alienated from her ill-tempered offspring. What’s a girl to do? Well, why not poison? Get rid of that sickly Swifty Lazar-like husband, and be free again. But when those danged children begin to suspect mummy in their daddy’s death, Angela’s life falls apart fast. The outrageous results are a whodunit on psychedelics, an over-the-top hoot, your ticket to fun-fun-fun, and gay camp (hey, wait, I’m going to one of those next week!).

And hold on to your bonnets, kids — whereas Charles’s’s’s’ previous engagement at LATW had him bedecked in street clothes for the recording of his 2010 nun-fest The Divine Sister, you will be treated to full drag for Die, Mommie, Die! “At the risk of sounding self-aggrandizing,” Busch said, “I rather consider this my King Lear.” His longtime friend and colleague Ruth Williamson will be playing the housekeeper Bootsie. “I wrote the role for her and this will be the first time she’s actually played it. Mark Capri, who created the role of my gigolo Tony Parker, will once again be my leading man.” Also joining Busch are Willie Garson (White Collar, Sex and the City) as Sol Sussman and Jeffery Self (Search Party, Jeffery & Cole Casserole) as Lance Sussman. Busch’s longtime collaborator Carl Andress directs. “I’m very excited about this,” says Busch. “Now I can say I’ve played Angela Arden on stage, film … and radio!”

There’s scissors, show-stoppers, sarcastic one-liners, unsavory situations, hidden agendas, twists and turns, lies, large distorted facial expressions, and a die-hard Republican religious fanatic maid (it almost sounds like the White House, doesn’t it?). But most of all, you’ll get Busch live (or live Busch, if you wanna look at it that way), one of the most thrilling, poignant, funny and timeless entertainers I have ever seen.

Busch once said he thought of himself as the Loretta Young of drag, specializing in creatures of artifice, vanity, and soulful, often unrequited longing, my friend Bernsie said. Even as far back as playing the ingénue haunted by a terrible secret in Psycho Beach Party, you could see the leading lady to come. Busch has commanded the stage as the ageless monster of Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, the mysterious woman with shady origins in Shanghai Moon, and the icons of Red Scare on Sunset and The Lady in Question, among others. When the latter play premiered, no less than Frank Rich in The New York Times went straight to the point, proclaiming what he considered to be an inarguable fact: “The lady in question is a star!”

top photo by Joshua Arvizo
black slinky thing photo by David Rogers
Die, Mommie, Die! flower cow print photo by Jim Cox

Die, Mommie, Die!
L.A. Theatre Works
James Bridges Theater
UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television
235 Charles E. Young Drive
Friday, May 17, 2019 at 8
Saturday, May 18, 2019 at 3 & 8
Sunday, May 19, 2019 at 4
for tickets ($15-$65) call 310.827.0889 or visit LATW

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