Review: L’imitation of Life (Hell in a Handbag Productions)

| April 8, 2013
Steve Love as Suzie Turner in Hell in a Handbag Production's "L'imitation of Life" by Ricky Graham, directed by Cheryl Snodgrass. (photo credit: Rick Aguilar Studios)       
      
L’imitation of Life 

Written by Ricky Graham
Directed by Cheryl Snodgrass 
at Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark (map)
thru May 10  |  tickets: $15-$22   |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets 
    
        
        Read entire review
     


     
       

High camp with a heart!

     

Robert Williams, Ed Jones and Steve Love star in Hell in a Handbag Productions' "L'imitation of Life" by Ricky Graham, directed by Cheryl Snodgrass. (photo credit: Rick Aguilar Studios)

    
Hell in a Handbag Productions presents
    
L’imitation of Life

Review by Clint May 

Well color me surprised.

After being disappointed by the last (and my first) Hell in a Handbag effort, Sexy Baby, I walked into their newest premiere L’imitation of Life with more than a little trepidation but as open a mind as one could muster. As it turns out, I was more than pleasantly surprised. Life shoots the moon with some sneakily smart farce mingled with Handbag’s stock and trade rapid-fire comedic stylings. Based on the 1959 film “Imitation of Life” starring Lana Turner, it weaves aspects of the movie with Turner’s own life (there’s actually a lot of overlap it turns out). Lovably over the top and anchored by two hilarious lead performances, Life has the zany feel of improv and the satirical smarts of “Strangers with Candy”.

Robert Williams and Steve Love star in Hell in a Handbag Productions' "L'imitation of Life" by Ricky Graham, directed by Cheryl Snodgrass. (photo credit: Rick Aguilar Studios)For Lana Turner (Ed Jones), all the world is quite literally a stage. Frequently breaking the fourth wall and meta-commenting on the nature of the production as it happens, her life imitates her art when she encounters Annie (Robert Williams) at the beach. Annie’s daughter Sara Lane (Alex Grelle) is so light-skinned she can pass for white thanks to her caucasian daddy. On the invitation of Lana, Annie becomes her maid while Sara Lane “befriends” Lana’s psychotic daughter Suzie (Steve Love). Historical sidenote: Lana Turner’s real life daughter Cheryl stabbed her boyfriend to death in self-defense, though L’imitation of Life would seem to think it’s just because she loves her some knife action.

While Lana’s career begins to take off, things at home begin to unravel. Sara Lane wants to pass for white and rebels against her long suffering mother, while the neglected Suzie grows into a lascivious woman who thinks of Annie as her mother and hits on Lana’s boyfriends. Several real life events and people (played with whiplash energy by Michael S. Miller and John Cardone) and events from the movie weave together in a hilarious send up that hits on racial injustice and mother-daughter relationships. Of course it’s all done with a feather-boa-weight touch and enough puns and innuendo to fill a small stadium.

Ed Jones and Robert Williams star in Hell in a Handbag Productions' "L'imitation of Life" by Ricky Graham, directed by Cheryl Snodgrass. (photo credit: Rick Aguilar Studios)

Beyond the silly smartness of the comedy, it’s those aforementioned leads Jones and Williams, that really sell this comedy. Jones has some great timing and keeps Lana’s narcissistic character endearing. As the “straight man,” Williams makes his Handbag debut in a performance that frequently foils Jones’ with a more understated turn. Grelle gets a second act chance to strut his/her stuff when Sara Lane rebels with a job at a seedy nightclub, with Love keeping the wide-eyed vacant eyes of a killer throughout.

Replete with running gags (I loved Annie constantly offering to ‘fry up’ something whenever there was trouble, mostly things that aren’t fryable, such as coffee), sight gags, sound gags, physical slapstick, and a few grin-inducing groaners, L’imitation of Life is one of the smartest farces I’ve seen of late. This is high camp with a heart, and a show stopping gospel number by guest star Mahalia Jackson is just icing on this deliriously delicious cake.

  
Rating: ★★★
  
   

L’imitation of Life continues through May 10th at Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm (no shows April 20 & 27, extra shows April 15 & 29).  Tickets are $15-$22, and are available online through BrownPaperTickets.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at HandBagProductions.org(Running time: 90 minutes, includes an intermission)

Robert Williams, Ed Jones and Steve Love star in Hell in a Handbag Productions' "L'imitation of Life" by Ricky Graham, directed by Cheryl Snodgrass. (photo credit: Rick Aguilar Studios)

Photos by Rick Aguilar Studios 


     

artists

cast

John Cardone (Steven Martin), Alex Grelle (Sara Jane Johnson), Ed Jones (Lana Turner), Lynne Jordan (Mahalia Jackson), David Lipschutz (Understudy), Steve Love (Suzie Turner), Michael S. Miller (Everbody Else), Robert Williams (Annie Johnson)

behind the scenes

Cheryl Snodgrass (director), David Cerda (executive producer), Derek Van Tassel (asst. director, stage manager), Lolly Extract, Amber Marsh (set design), Cat Wilson (lighting), Daniel Carlyon (sound design) Jacob Green (wigs), Chris Carpenter (violence design), Jeff Shields (props), Michael S. Miller (graphics), Steve Love (choreography), Sydney Genco (makeup), Rick Aguilar Studios (photos)

Robert Williams and Ed Jones star in Hell in a Handbag Productions' "L'imitation of Life" by Ricky Graham, directed by Cheryl Snodgrass. (photo credit: Rick Aguilar Studios)

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Category: 2013 Reviews, Clint May, Hell in a Handbag, Mary's Attic

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