Saturday, September 27, 2008

Review - Red Scare on Sunset


Red Scare on Sunset

by Charles Busch

Attic Theatre

directed by Cindy Gendrich

through October 18

Playwright Charles Busch is at his best as a satirist who pokes fun at old films, actors and the Hollywood machine. He did that exceedingly well in Die! Mommie Die! His leading lady was no saint, but found liberation in who she was, and that was that. In Red Scare on Sunset he goes a step further in trying to champion a cause within the acting profession, showing two sides of American guilt during the McCarthy era of the early 50s.

Much of it works engagingly, especially equating the Actors' Studio to the Communist Party, showing method acting as revolutionary in its attempt to destroy the dominant artificiality of the Hollywood star system in favor of kitchen-sink realism. Its acting ideology true, but equation to the Party a falsehood, what emerges is an exaggerated reality that indeed makes for a very enjoyable theatrical evening. And the plot plays like a B mystery with the good guys out to obliterate the bad guys, and the bad guys always one step ahead. However, when his characters become overly heroic at play's end, it's not as easy to digest.

Yes, artists at that time were tricked into believing that they were actually doing the right thing by naming names, and if they didn't, they didn't work in the industry. Naming names went out of control like an epidemic and even the most innocent were called guilty; it evolved into a betrayal of associates and friends for selfish motives. This heightened sense of reality is hard to laugh at; it doesn't quite jive with the play's overall texture of the grade B adventure movie.

This production of Red Scare at the Attic, nonetheless, has much to sing about: a super cast and some finely tuned direction.

Especially memorable are the female contingent: namely, Michelle Begley as loud-mouthed, outspoken Pat Pilford, Sona Tatoyan as the evil femme fatale Marta Towers, Amy Procacci a standout in a variety of supporting roles and - in a drag performance quite common a la Busch, Drew Droege as the star, sweet and loveable Mary Dale. Like Busch himself, Droege is totally believable as a woman, giving Mary poise and flare. His overly expressive face in reaction to disbelief is hilarious. All the actors deliver superbly meaningful/comic performances. Busch puts the women center stage as extreme forces of nature and deliberately makes the males weaker and of secondary importance. But, making the most of it are Chris Tarantino as handsome, no- talent movie star Frank Taggart, Dane Whitlock delectable in an assortment of roles, especially the butler and Eric Jorgenson exuding fake charm as the brash and sexy New York playwright Mitchell Drake.

I admire Charles Busch tremendously as an actor, playwright, movie historian and overall entertainer. He has guts and is not afraid to let his characters show their human side. It is this humanity and his campy wit that make his plays sparkle. Bravo for taking a stand, but getting too politically involved can be messy!

Production values: 4 out of 5 stars


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