Tag: Rick Aguilar
Classic camp with a Joan Crawford twist
|Hell in a Handbag Productions presents|
|Trogg! A Musical|
|Written by David Cerda
with Cheryl Snodgrass and Taylor E. Ross
Directed by Scott Ferguson
at Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division (map)
through July 3 | tickets: $22-$28 | more info
Reviewed by Keith Ecker
One of the great things about film is the air of mystery that surrounds the process. How did Spielberg make that bike fly in E.T.? Where did George Lucas get his inspiration for the “Star Wars” series? Or how about one of the greatest movie enigmas of all time: What compelled Joan Crawford, a highly esteemed and accomplished actress, to star in one of the worst B-movie horror flicks of all time? And we’re not talking about a misguided decision early in her career to get screen time. We’re talking about 1970, just seven years before the queen of mean passed away (perhaps the regret is what killed her).
Of course, I am talking about the dated cult classic “Trog,” which is short for troglodyte. Always the conveyor of kitsch, Hell in a Handbag decided to tackle this piece of questionable art and adapt it for the stage as a musical. What results is an insanely fun romp filled with self-aware cheesy humor, purposeful bad acting and a Joan Crawford impression that will have you clearing your closet of wire hangers.
The production, spelled Trogg! A Musical, presumably follows the movie’s incredibly thin and illogical plot. A group of beach-blanket teens are partying it up around a fire in a cave (as teens are oft to do) when the fire accidentally melts a block of ice that had suspended a prehistoric man for millennia. Trogg (Chad Ramsey) is a brutish, built man-beast that is not fit for the modern world and presents a danger to the beachside town’s citizens. World-renowned anthropologist Dr. Joan Cannon a.k.a. Joan Crawford a.k.a. Hell in a Handbag’s artistic director David Cerda (who also wrote the book and lyrics and co-authored the music) wishes to study the creature. And so she, along with her Dame Edna-esque assistant Carol Ann (Ed Jones), tranquilize the beast and cage him for research purposes.
Meanwhile, Dr. Joan’s daughter Barbara (Elizabeth Lesinksi), whose genesis is a hushed secret, discovers Trog’s capacity for humanity, specifically his ability to boogie down to surf music. Yet her stoic mother refuses to acknowledge her discovery and treats her with the warmth reserved for a lab rat. Complicating matters, Barbara is dating Rex Huntington (Edward Fraim), the well-primped son of Mayor Huntington (Michael S. Miller), a religious zealot who wishes to enslave the caveman at the local zoo.
If you are expecting convincing and honest acting from Trogg! A Musical, then you shouldn’t be seeing Trogg!. The performers all play the stock B-movie characters with keen adeptness. They obviously have studied their source material. Huntington is a riot as the finger-wagging mayor. Lesinski and Fraim sport the mindless naiveté of Frankie and Annette. Cerda as Joan Crawford is genius. He knows he’s good at portraying the hard-faced starlet, and it shows. He revels in the role, taking obvious pleasure in those moments that just wreak of classic Joan, e.g., the raised eyebrows, the slapping, the passive aggression.
This is a solid comedy script. In fact, this is one of the most expertly crafted and executed zany comedies I’ve seen in a long time. Of course, it is of a particular genre that appeals to a particular audience (read: gay and gay-friendly). I doubt the typical Aurora tourist would be as tickled.
The music part of this musical, however, seems superfluous. I found the songs to be the least funny part of the play. I think much of this is because of the show’s technical aspects. Trogg! occupies the Chopin’s downstairs space, a spacious room with awful sight lines. The theater-of-the-round set up makes it difficult for everyone in the audience to hear a particular performer at all times. This is especially true when the cast breaks out into song, as the backing music often drowns out what’s being sung.
Director Scott Ferguson does a great job given the difficult space. He consciously moves action from one end of the long stage to the other in an effort to play to the entire audience. This is likely the same impetus for Ferguson’s decision to have actors frequently spin and reel around.
Trogg! A Musical is a gay old time. It’s catty, it’s kitschy and it’s got Joan Crawford. If you are part of the finely carved niche that this play caters to, you’ll definitely enjoy yourself.
All photos by Rick Aguilar
Hell in a Handbag Productions presents:
POSEIDON! An Upside Down Musical
Book & Lyrics by David Cerda
w/add’l material by Cheryl Snodgrass
Music by David Cerda & Scott Lamberty
Directed by Matthew Gunnels
Where: The Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division Street
Runs: Extended through Sept. 27th (Buy Tickets)
From Hell in a Handbag’s press release:
At a time when grants have seemingly disappeared and donations are diminishing, and major Chicago theater companies our sending our emergency requests for cash, Hell in a Handbag Productions, through sheer force of will, has produced a Jeff recommended, critically acclaimed, musical comedy with a cast of 23 and a capsizing ship on a budget that many those same theaters use for costumes alone, and the Chicago theater going public has responded favorably with their support. "We were fortunate enough to surround ourselves with a cast and crew that really believed in the show", says David Cerda, Artistic Director of the company. "We took a ‘if we build it, they will come’ approach and thank God, it seems to be working".
All photos by Rick Aguilar
POSEIDON! An Upside Down Musical
is both a musical parody and a loving homage to the classic 1972 film, The Poseidon Adventure, the grandmother of all disaster films. The play celebrates and lampoons the beloved cult classic through comedy and music. When a tidal wave capsizes the SS Poseidon luxury liner on New Year’s Eve, a group of scrappy passengers must climb to the bottom of the ship (now above them) before the ship sinks. The perilous journey of these colorful characters, both humorous and tragic, makes for an edge-of-your-seat adventure. Watch the story unfold with a party of hardcore Poseidon Adventure fans who provide personal commentary and touching insight on how film resonates in our collective conscious, resulting in very real shared experiences.