Chicago Theatre Review
Halloween Horror a la Camp
Scream, Queen, Scream! – Hell in a Handbag
As Autumn approaches, can Halloween be far behind? With the holiday in mind, David Cerda, co-founder, Artistic Director, resident playwright and actor extraordinaire for Hell in a Handbag Productions, has penned his own Trilogy of Terror, just in time for the bewitching holiday ahead. His new work is an homage to the kind of stories enjoyed on Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone” in the 50’s, the Bette Davis/Joan Crawford hag horror flicks of the 60’s and 70’s and the 80’s film classic “Creepshow.” In this blast from the past pastiche, Mr. Cerda has created a triple dip of campy horror that evokes more laughter than chills. It’s a drag queen’s delight!
Without spoiling the fun of discovering these three playlets firsthand, suffice it say that this wonderland of weirdness begins with “Taco Tuesday,” a story about how a seemingly innocent office temp named Mary Santana reveals she’s actually a minion from hell, serving Satanically possessed copy machine. The second tale is “The Box,” in which a large, sealed-up crate is discovered stashed in the bowels of a university cellar. It’s supposedly a forgotten remnant from an Antarctic expedition, but when the lady janitor pries it open, all hell breaks loose. The final act is called “Shut Up and Die, Maggie!” Set in the Deep South, it features a pair of rival twin sisters, a grisly murder and an asylum for the criminally insane.
The evening is emceed by the sexy vampire mistress, Countess Dragula. Stunningly svelte and gorgeous, this quick-witted and acid-tongued evil entity is embodied by a most impressive John Cardone. Resembling a cross between the demon in Night on Bald Mountain, from Disney’s “Fantasia,” and camp horror host Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, Cardone opens the show and introduces each segment. All by himself, Mr. Cardone is a major reason for seeing this show. However, each of the playlets, directed by Akvavit and Babes With Blades director, Wm. Bullion, provides the giggles and goosebumps for this 90-minute funny fright fest. Mr. Bullion’s done a monumental job of keeping this trio of treats moving at breakneck speed, especially considering his large cast of quirky queens crammed onto the tiny Mary’s Attic stage.
Each and every performer is terrifyingly terrific, often appearing in more than one story, and has his own unique moments to shine. Rachel Hadlock, a newcomer to the Handbag of Hell players, is genuinely unnerving as the office temp with a demonic knack for handling the Office Master 2000. Ms. Hadlock’s instant transformation from Carol Brady to Cruella deVil is as funny as it is frightening. Hell in a Handbag favorite, Ed Jones often stops the show(s), particularly in the third playlet, as eccentric twin sisters, Maggie and Aggie Honeycutt (think Davis and Crawford as siblings in “…Baby Jane”). Kristopher Bottrall is excellent as Candy with a “C,” the young secretary who goes from office clown to slasher queen. He gets to demonstrate his versatility in the other stories, as well. Jamie Smith is all wide-eyed innocence as both Whitney and Miriam, while David Cerda brings his customary barbed tongue, diva delight to the starring role of Betty Carr, the bitchy babe who finally gets what she deserves from the hairy monster-in-a-box.
Supported by Lolly Extract’s puppetry and special effects, Mikey Moran’s pulsating sound design, Kate Setzer Kamphausen’s spectacular costumes and Karen Kawa’s over-the-top wig designs, this premiere will no doubt become a seasonal favorite. For liberal audiences with a taste for adult humor, spicy language and provocative situations, there can be no better way to shiver through a Fall evening in Chicago than with a drink in your hand and a scream on your lips.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented September 24-October 31 by Hell in a Handbag Productions at Mary’s Attic, above Hamburger Mary’s, 5400 N. Clark Street, Chicago.
Tickets are available at the door, by going to www.handbagproductions.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.