Chicago Theatre Review
Hell in a Handbag presents a Campy Christmas Classic
By Lazlo Collins
It wouldn’t be Christmas in Chicago without a Hell in a Handbag offering to keep the holidays real (unreal?). With “Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer” at rest this year, the folks at Hell in a Handbag bring us “Christmas Dearest”.
At the center of this Dickensian once over is none other than Joan Crawford herself. David Cerda (Actor/Writer/Artistic Director) is “Miss Crawford” in all her maternal glory.
“Christmas Dearest” is the story of Joan Crawford and her impetuous rule over the cronies that surround her in Hollywood with her extraordinary ego. The characters of her well documented life appear throughout the show. From daughter Christina (Christopher Lewis) to movie mate Bette Davis (lovingly played by Caitlin Jackson), move through the past and present twisting and turning though Miss Crawford’s Christmas Carol story treatment.
The story opens when Joan is starring as the Virgin Mary (yes, the mother of Jesus) in a lively full cast number, “I’m Mary!” Things go awry and Joan is not pleased. She lets LB Mayer (Michael J Hampton) and the cast have it. And now they must all work on Christmas day; including her loyal gal pal Carol Ann played by the always funny Ed Jones.
Joan retires for the evening and is visited by three specters from her past.
The first visit is a flapper girl (Olive LaLake) from one of Joan’s old movies who is expertly played by Alex Grelle. I love Mr. Grelle, he is fearless with some great physical shtick. He returns as Teeny Teena in subsequent ghostly visits. We find out Teeny Teena is gal pal Carol’s daughter with her lesbian partner Vernita. This is a fun twist in the Cratchit story line. It’s the Christmas past and Joan must face her past with new vigor.
On to Christmas present, and then the past (this visiting ghost is Bette Davis), and finally Joan must rise on Christmas morning and be changed! Will the visions of her present and past be enough to let the cast and crew spend time with their families? Or will Joan Crawford just be remembered as Faye
Dunaway in Mommie Dearest?
Ed Jones as 70’s Joan in a cheesy space romp is still making me laugh. The make-up and costume were perfect. Other musical numbers are pleasing as well.
This fun holiday offering moves at a different tick than most other holiday shows, and has a lot of memorable moments to make you smile. I love that Handbag does not take itself too seriously. The one-liners and snarky banter is there trademark appeal.
David Cerda is in command and makes his mark as St. Joan. His dedication and camp esthetic is admirable. He and his team work hard to bring this special holiday project to life. I admire their tenacity and they made me smile.
It’s a Hell in a Handbag show people. The story will take you too places you may never know existed, with great heart and good production values to boot!
“Christmas Dearest” runs through 29 Dec. at Mary’s Attic, 5400 N Clark St. Chicago, IL 60640
For tickets go to www.brownpapertickets.com/event/455598
For more information on this and other shows please visit Theatre in Chicago at www.theatreinchicago.com