Chicago Theatre Review
The Golden Girls: the Lost Episodes – Hell in a Handbag
Transported back from the mid-1980’s come that fabulous female foursome, Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia, along with all of their family and friends. They’re in Chicago this summer to present a selection of new, heretofore unaired episodes from this beloved television comedy’s six seasons. Along the way these lovable ladies may also reveal a few new secrets about themselves, as well. This is the latest parody from Jeff Award-winner David Cerda, whose brilliantly creative, spot-on satires spoof iconic TV shows and classic films from the Golden Age. Here he presents our favorite Floridians, these delightful middle-aged Miami Mamas who’ve become famous for solving their personal problems over a late night nosh of cheesecake.
The parody begins, as the sitcom often did, with housemates Dorothy, her Italian-born mother Sophia, Rose and Blanche sitting around the kitchen table, eating cheesecake and sharing stories while reminiscing about earlier adventures. Suddenly, as happened on the TV show, the familiar scene change music comes in and the lights fade. Now clad in different polyester frocks, a previously unknown Golden Girls episode from the past begins to play out before our eyes. Throughout the show we’re reacquainted with many of the girls’ family members and friends, all of whom figure prominently in each lost episode.
The talented cast of this show consists of twelve of the company’s wonderful ensemble members, actors who have proven their comic talents in a number of past productions. Playwright extraordinaire David Cerda stars as Dorothy Sbornak, the role indelibly created by the magnificent, larger-than-life stage and TV actress, Bea Arthur. Cerda masters the role with his perfect gravelly voice, towering stature and take-control dominance that Ms. Arthur brought to the role. Mr. Cerda has also mastered that silent, deadpan take toward the audience that Bea Arthur made her signature look. He is terrific.
One of this company’s finest, funniest, most versatile and best-loved actors, Ed Jones is perfection as the wide-eyed Rose Nylund. In his bleached blonde, cotton candy coif, Jones plays the sweetly naive belle of St. Olaf with child-like humility and wonder. As Jones regales the others with Rose’s inane stories about growing up in Minnesota, theatergoers will fondly recall Betty White spinning similar silly tales of this backward, Swedish community. In this role, Ed Jones once again proves that he’s a true comic treasure.
AJ Wright, another of the ensemble’s multitalented actors, is solid, smart and skillful as sexy Southern siren, Blanche Devereaux. The role, played on TV with alluring relish by actress Rue McClanahan, is perfectly portrayed by Mr. Wright in this parody. Wright wonderfully replicates the actress’ sexy poses, scampering walk, seductive smile and sensuous charisma. Blanche’s humor is always spot-on, thanks to this gifted actor’s smoldering smile and eye-batting innocence.
The biggest surprise in the cast is Adrian Hadlock. This young, adaptable actor plays Sophia Petrillo, Dorothy’s Sicilian mother and the eldest character of the cast. The role, which was originally only suppose to be a recurring character, proved so popular with audiences, largely because of Estelle Getty’s hilarious portrayal, that Sophia became a regular on the show. In this parody, Hadlock has her character down pat. He delivers spunky Sophia’s lines with just the right punch and roll of the eyes, moving his diminutive frame around the tiny stage with a slightly hunched posture. Tightly clutching her handbag, her cardigan sweater hugging her shoulders, Sophia injects this production with one of the funniest, most memorable and authentically created characters from the television sitcom.
Much credit goes to the unseen heroes who made this production happen. Director Shade Murray, whose talent has been enjoyed all over Chicago at a multitude of theatres, guides this very funny, bawdy satire with great energy and joy. He’s polished each of the lead characters to meet audience expectations, while giving a bit more free rein to the supporting ensemble, most of whom play multiple roles. Lori Lee, for instance, is hilarious as Dorothy’s paunchy, balding, skirt-chasing ex-husband, Stan. Equally spectacular are David Lipschutz, playing Rose’s gentleman friend, Miles; Michael S. Miller, as neighbor Dr. Harry Weston; Grant Drager as Blanche’s daughter, Rebecca; and Terry McCarthy, who plays actress June Allyson, as well as a number of other smaller character parts. The rest of the ensemble consists of talented Chazie Bly, Kristopher Botrall and Robert Williams, all playing numerous roles.
So much inventiveness and fine work are provided by Myron Elliott and Keith Ryan, as they transform these talented actors into the Golden Girls. Elliott’s costumes are particularly authentic to the characters and the time period, while Ryan provides the right finishing touches with his hair and wig creations. Roger Wykes’ scenic design makes the most of the intimate Mary’s Attic venue, creating an environment that has infused the Girls’ lanai with suggestions of Floridian palm trees and tropical vegetation. Timothy McNulty’s sound design recalls the hit songs of the mid-80’s, while nicely incorporating the sitcom’s signature musical transitions into each scene. And, of course, this wouldn’t be “The Golden Girls” without the show’s catchy theme song, “Thank You For Being a Friend,” which inspires a pre-show singalong.
This hilarious, adult-rated comic creation will rank right up there with David Cerda’s other divine creations. Never subtle, always way over-the-top, this parody is the perfect light-hearted summer entertainment. Not only are these lost episodes fast-paced, entertaining and filled with R-rated fun, but there’s even a trivia contest with prizes for audiences to demonstrate their recollection of Golden Girl minutiae. So put on your kaftan, grab a slice of cheesecake and settle in for an evening of nostalgic fun.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented June 14-August 26 by Hell in a Handbag Productions at Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark St., Chicago.
Tickets are available at the door or by going to www.handbagproductions.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.