The holiday cynicism is as pungent as a Pepsi-Cola vodka cocktail in Jeff Church and Ron Megee’s brainchild, “A Very Joan Crawford Christmas,” playing on the Jerome Stage at the Unicorn Theatre.
Piling in for a late showing on Dec. 18, patrons of the Unicorn bustled with energy unmatched in Kansas City since La Roux took the stage during Pride 2010.
Hopes were high and Megee undoubtedly delivered an abundance of slapstick punch lines, aided by local luminary Jessica Dressler who played Mamacita (Crawford’s contemptuous German housekeeper) and chiseled-to-perfection Jeff Smith as Carl the chauffer.
Crawford fans roared with laughter as they lived out their subconscious fantasy of watching one of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s glamour girl’s reveal her batshit crazy persona.
Act one was predominantly a tribute to Hollywood’s most infamous alcoholic mother, distorting Crawford’s career high’s into “Don’t you wish she would have said what she meant” moments.
Megee played into Crawford’s vanity, demanding the audience applaud every time a title of one of her movies was mentioned on stage.
Megee’s malleable facial expressions and the repetitive disrobing of Carl kept the audience’s attention during lulls, of which there were plenty.
Act two’s reincarnation of “Whatever happened to Baby Jane” had Crawford bound to a wheelchair, defenseless against her hallucination of her mortal enemy, Bette Davis.
Dressler’s talents were utilized more abundantly during her role as Davis, though the eerie dramatization of Crawford’s “worst nightmare” became increasingly disturbing until the unpredictably comical ending revived the audience from their live-action, “Nightmare Before Christmas” coma.
Megee was true to his talent, relying on physical comedy and a heavy layer of faux eyelashes to animate a plot that lacked in rising tension or cohesiveness.
Dressler, who’s known for her untamable guise, was stuffed into an appropriately drab maid’s costume for a majority of the show and, overall, her talents were squandered in this production.
The gifted trio gave theater-goers exactly what they wanted, twisted entertainment.
In the end, the audience responded with a standing ovation, but some of the most entertaining moments of this production were accidental: Megee slipping off the plastic-covered couch of Eric Hill’s appropriately eccentric set and becoming impossibly wedged between a sofa and a coffee table. Breaking character to say, “It’s OK, don’t help me,” as he dragged his limber self out from within the predicament, brought a humorous sincerity to the production.
Similarly in act two, when Dressler wheeled Megee into a doorway, not once or twice but three times until she flung him from the wheelchair.
These were the shining moments, when the actors were in truest form and the audience had an opportunity to appreciate their chemistry and not their efforts.
But the production has had a great reception in KC. With so many performances selling out, the Unicorn has extended the run through Jan. 2.
Visit www.unicorntheatre.org for additional information.
Pro Wire Hangers Art Opening
Monday, Dec. 20 6:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Joan Crawford might hate them, but some local artists love them. The Unicorn has asked distinguished local artists and friends of the theatre to make art out of wire hangers. Come and see the results at this special reception and silent auction. Artists and friends include Peregrine Honig, Tyson Schroeder, Peggy Noland, Ann Brown, Bernie Koehrsen, Annie Cherry and the Kansas City Burlesque Society, Andrew Chambers, Hector Casanova and more. Benefits for the silent auction will go to the AIDS Service Foundation of Greater Kansas City. This event is free to the public. Light appetizers will be served and there is a cash bar. While you are here, make your own wire hanger Christmas ornament in “Christina’s Craft Room”.
Joan Crawford X-MAS Eve CELEBRITY-ation
Friday, Dec. 24 7 p.m.
Kansas City’s two favorite Ron’s come together for this very special X-MAS eve event. Join us at 7 p.m. for hors d’oeuvres, cocktails, crafts and Ron Simonian in the lobby as Santa Claws. He’ll even let you sit on his lap, but only if you’ve been naughty. At 8 p.m., join Joan Crawford (Ron Megee) on The Jerome Stage for a production of A Very Joan Crawford Christmas. After the show, join Santa-Ron and Joan-Ron for a champagne toast to health, prosperity and NO MORE WIRE HANGERS EVER!